Water Quality Concerns

Taste & Oder

Briny or Salty Taste

The use of large quantities of deicing salts applied to surface roads and walkways during winter storms may lead to an increased concentration of sodium in the water. Currently there is no treatment alternative to remove increased sodium concentrations. Therefore, this may result in a slightly briny or salty taste in the water. Fortunately, due to the higher flow rates of our river systems, such occurrences spike and then quickly subside after the snow melts and the melt water is carried away past the treatment plant. It is important to note this taste poses no health concern but one of aesthetic quality.

Chlorinous Taste or Odor

Chlorine is a water additive used to control microbes. Levels of chlorine in the water are regularly monitored. The taste of chlorine in your water can be eliminated by setting an open pitcher in your refrigerator overnight.

Discolored or Foul Tasting Water

If the water looks or smells bad, do not drink, cook, clean or bathe with it. Contact the Department of Public Service and Engineering, Utility Billing Division at 614-342-4440, Monday through Friday, 8 am - 5 pm. After 5 pm and on weekends and holidays, call 614-342-4240. The Utility Billing Division will dispatch a utility crew to investigate the situation and assess the issue.

Musty Taste & Odor

Occasionally the water may have an earthy, musty or fishy taste and odor. These seasonal phenomena can be caused by the bi-annual turnover of reservoirs, or with the presence of varied algal blooms in reservoirs or rivers. It is important to note this taste and odor poses no health concern. Advanced treatment techniques involving powder activated carbon and remote real-time sensors are used to help mitigate this problem.

Sulfurous (Rotten Egg) Taste & Odor

The most likely cause of a sulfurous or rotten egg like odor is from either the water trap below the sink (the 'P-trap') or from within the faucet itself. As organic material settles in the water trap beneath the sink, a sulfurous or rotten egg smell is often mistakenly perceived as coming from the water. The best way to test this theory is by filling a glass of water at the sink and then smelling it in a different room away from the sink. If the smell disappears, then the problem is most likely in the sink itself. Pouring a ¼ cup of bleach down the drain and allowing it to sit overnight should help relieve the problem. Cleaning the aerator is also recommended. It is important to note that this odor is typically not a health concern, but one of aesthetic quality.

Source: City of Columbus Department of Public Utilities

Color & Other Concerns

Cloudy Water

Cloudy water is usually caused by temperature change and the presence of dissolved air in the water. When water appears to have a milky white, gray or carbonated appearance a simple test may suffice to indicate its origin. Fill a clear glass with tap water and observe it over a minute or so. If the glass clears from bottom to top, then it is dissolved air escaping into the atmosphere. There is no health risk associated with this situation. Cloudy water is very common in the winter and can last for quite a long time.


Fluoride is added to drinking water as required by the State of Ohio since the early 1970's. It is added during the water treatment process in accordance with the American Dental Association's findings and recommendations regarding significant cavity reduction in the population.

Pink or Dark Stains in the Toilet or on Fixtures

Airborne organisms are usually the cause of pink or dark stains in a toilet or on plumbing fixtures. You will see grey, black or sometimes pink film on surfaces that are regularly moist, including toilet bowls, showerheads, sink drains, dishwashers and shower tiles. These organisms are controlled with normal drinking water disinfectants; therefore, they are not found in the water but can come from dust or dirt that is airborne. Regular cleaning and ventilation should reduce these nuisance organisms.

Rusty Water

It is important to note that when rusty water is experienced it is normally not a health concern but one of aesthetic quality. Rusty-brown, orange or light yellow water can be caused by a variety of reasons including: water main breaks, firefighting operations, hydrant flushing or broken hydrants, construction work or damage, system depressurizations and corroding iron pipes. Normally rusty water events dissipate in 4 to 6 hours but could last longer depending on water usage in the area. If the event lasts more than 24 hours, please call the Utility Billing Division at 614-342-4440.

During such an event, it is of little to no value for you to run your water until it turns clear. This is wasteful and costly to you as a consumer. During such events, use of hot water should be kept to a minimum, as it will draw cold rusty water into your hot water tank. If your hot water tank does have rust in it, use caution and please follow the manufacturer's directions for shutting down, draining and re-starting your hot water tank.

Clothing washed in rusty water can become stained. Should this occur, it is important not to dry the clothing. Instead, leave the wet clothing in the washer and apply an iron removal product as soon as possible to prevent the iron stain from setting and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Water Hardness

Hardness is a measure of the presence of the minerals calcium and magnesium in water. As water moves through or over the earth, it picks up these minerals and causes the water to become "hard." The usage of the word "hard" in this case refers to the difficulty with which the water produces soapsuds, with successively harder water requiring more and more soap. Water is typically softened to a moderately hard level which is optimal for corrosion control. Very soft water can be corrosive to home plumbing.

White Particles

White or grayish particles in your water can often be attributed to two different sources, both of which pertain to the condition of the hot water tank. There is no health risk associated with either situation. The characteristics of the particles will help determine the source. If you have white, gray or dark gray particles that give off bubbles when submerged in white vinegar, you most likely have calcium carbonate particles. These particles are often formed from the hardness of the water when it is heated over 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) in your hot water tank. To help prevent it, you should turn the temperature down on the tank. If your hot water tank has calcium carbonate deposited in it, use caution and follow the manufacturer's directions for shutting down, draining and re-starting your hot water tank.

If you have white particles that reduce water flow by clogging the aerators on your faucets, and that do not give off bubbles when submerged in white vinegar, you most likely have a disintegrating dip-tube. These particles are formed when the plastic dip-tube from the hot water heater degrades and disintegrates in the tank. Please consult with your tank's manufacturer. You will need to have the dip-tube replaced either by the manufacturer, or a qualified technician.

Source: City of Columbus Department of Public Utilities