Why is my water brown?

Why is my water brown?


When you turn your faucet or shower on and brown water comes out, you know there’s something wrong there.

Discoloration can range from a light straw yellow color to dark brown. It can be caused by a number of things including:

  • Naturally occurring substances
  • Disturbance of mains deposits
  • Corrosion of service pipes
  • Internal plumbing issues

There are several reasons why water turns brown, the main one being rust.

Rust – Water will turn brown, red, orange or yellow if there is rust in the water. There are two major sources for rust in your water, the Water Supplier’s main pipes or your pipes in your home and seeing that in Belize, almost all homes are equipped with PVC; I highly doubt that it’s an in-house issue. If a main pipe is broken and fixed there could have been seepage of dirt that would cause it but only temporarily or it could cause rust to dislodge and get into your water flow as you use your faucet or shower. Unless mains are serviced regularly or replaced as needed this can become a serious health threat and a because rust breaks down metal it could cause main pipe breaks which would be costly to WASA.

The first step in solving this problem is to determine the origin. Is it WASA’s pipes or yours? Here are a few pointers:

Possible problem at WASA’s end:

  • The water was clear before and suddenly it started to pour out brown or discolored
  • If you have a heater in place, only the cold water is discolored.
  • The water from all water outlets on the property is discolored and does not clear up after several minutes.

Possible problem on your end:

  • Water is discolored every morning or when used after several hours of non use.
  • Water clears up after it is allowed to run for several minutes.
  • Discoloration is only at certain water outlets.
  • If you have a heater in place, only the hot water is discolored.

If you are still unsure, try this:

When you turn on a faucet in your home and the water is discolored, quickly turn it off and get a clean clear glass or white bowl and go to your outside faucet closest to the meter. Let that water run for two minutes then fill the bowl. If that water is clean then it’s likely your plumbing. If it’s discolored then it’s WASA’s plumbing.

You can also check with your neighbors to see if they are experiencing the same discoloration.

Other things that can cause discolored water are:

  • Naturally occurring substances: The raw water used for producing drinking water may be obtained from a variety of sources, including boreholes, and rivers. Waters from some sources contain significant concentrations of iron, manganese or organic material that can give a yellow or brown tint to the water.
  • Disturbance of mains deposits: The sudden appearance of discolored tap water is usually caused by disturbance of iron and manganese deposits within the water pipes. Naturally occurring iron and manganese in the water can settle out in the water pipes. Over time, deposits can build up. If there is a sudden change in direction or flow rate within the pipe, the deposits can be disturbed and resuspended into the water. The discoloration can range from a straw color to dark brown. Sudden changes in flow can be caused by a burst main or by a change in demand for water, for example when fire-fighters tackle a large blaze. Probably the most common cause of discoloration.
  • Deterioration of the distribution mains: Many of the water pipes are made of cast iron. Over time, cast iron corrodes. The corrosion products or ‘rust’ can be picked up by the water and give an orange-brown discoloration.
  • Corrosion of service pipes: Service pipes connect the water main in the road to the customers’ property. The section of the pipe between the main and the water meter is the responsibility of WASA. The section between the meter and inside your home is your responsibility. These pipes can also corrode. Flakes of darkly colored material can indicate corrosion of iron/lead based service pipes.
  • Air in the water: Under pressure in the mains, air can become trapped causing water to have a milky white appearance when drawn from the tap. This often happens following repairs to fractured water mains.

Is discolored water harmful?

Discolored water caused by main deposits is unlikely to be harmful to health. Cloudy water caused by tiny air bubbles in the water is not harmful to health. However, if you have any concerns about the quality of your drinking water supply please contact WASA.

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