Q&A: Water Treatment

These questions and answers are from the book “Plain Talk About Drinking Water: Questions and Answers About the Water You Drink” by Dr. James M. Symons. For information on water rates, please click here.

What is the white stuff in my coffee pot and on my showerhead and glass shower door? How can I get rid of it?

Those are mineral deposits that settle out of water when water is heated or left behind when water evaporates. To remove these minerals, fill the coffee pot with vinegar and let sit overnight. You can soak the showerhead overnight in a plastic bowl filled with vinegar. Thoroughly rinse any item you soak before using. Prevent spots on glass doors by wiping them with a damp sponge after using the shower.

Is it OK to use hot water from the tap for cooking?

No. Use cold water. Hot water is more likely to contain rust, copper and lead from your household plumbing and water heater because these contaminants generally dissolve into hot water from the plumbing faster than into cold water.

Is water with chlorine in it safe to drink?

Yes. Many tests have shown that the amount of chlorine found in treated water is safe to drink, although some people object to the taste.

Is my drinking water completely free of microbes (germs)?

No, but don’t be alarmed; most microbes are harmless. For examples, if you licked your finger, you would get microbes in your mouth, but you wouldn’t get sick. Drinking water contains harmless microbes. Because most water is germ-free, many pediatricians in metropolitan areas do not think it is necessary to boil tap water used in making baby formula. However,
check with your own pediatrician.

Can I tell if my drinking water is okay by just looking at it, tasting it or smelling it?

No. None of the chemicals or microbes that could make you sick can be seen, tasted or smelled.

How can I kill all the germs in my drinking water?

Using a timer, bring the water to a full boil on a stove or in a microwave oven, then boil it for one minute. Treating water in this way should be done only in emergencies, because heating and boiling uses a lot of energy and concentrates some chemicals (nitrates and pesticides) if they are in the drinking water. However, the advantage of killing the germs in an emergency outweighs the slight disadvantage of concentrating the chemicals, which results in only minor worsening of water quality.

Fixing a broken water pipe/water main looks like a dirty job. How is the inside of the pipe/main cleaned afterward?

After the work is done, the pipe is filled with water containing a large amount of chlorine. Holding this water in the pipe for a time kills all the germs inside the pipe. This is not the end of the story, however. The next problem is how to dispose of all this water that contains so much chlorine. State and federal regulations control its disposal. A chemical must be added to react with the chlorine and destroy it before the water can be flushed out of the pipe and discharged, or the highly chlorinated water must be discharged to an area where it will not be an adverse impact on the environment.

What are the causes of low water pressure and should low water pressure concern me?

Temporary low pressure can be caused by heavy water use in your area — lawn watering, a water main break, fighting a nearby fire and so on. Permanent low pressure could be caused by the location of your home — on a hill or far from a pumping plant — or your home maybe served by pipes that are too small, or the pipes in your home have a lot of scale in them, leaving little room for the water to flow. This is more common in older homes.

Why is some drinking water stored in large tanks high above the ground?

Two reasons. First, this type of storage ensures that water pressure and water volume are sufficient to fight fires, even if the electricity that runs the water pumps is off. The second reason is to provide an extra source of drinking water during the day when water use is high. The tanks are refilled at night when drinking water use is low. Water suppliers must be very careful of these storage tanks because water may stay in them a long time. Thus, there is a potential for a decline in water quality.

My water faucet drips. Should I bother to fix it?

Yes. Drips waste a precious product, and this waste should be stopped, even though the dripped water may not register on your water meter. To find out how much water you are wasting, put an 8-ounce measuring cup under the drip and find out how many minutes it takes to fill it up. Divide the filling time by 90 to get the gallons of water wasted each day. As an example, if you have a faucet that dripped 60 times a minute this adds up to over 3 gallons each day or 1,225 gallons each year. That’s enough to fill more than twenty-two 55-gallon drums.

What activity in my home uses the most water?

Toilet flushing is by far the largest single use of water in a home. Without counting lawn watering, typical percentages of water use for a family of four are: toilet flushing 40%, bath/showering 32%, laundry 14%, dishwashing 6%, cooking/drinking 5% and bathroom sink use 3%.

What can I safely pour down the sink or into the toilet?

These liquids can be safely poured down a drain, followed by plenty of water: aluminum cleaners, ammonia-based cleaners, drain cleaners, window cleaners, alcohol-based lotions, bathroom cleaners, depilatories, hair relaxers, permanent lotions, toilet bowl cleaners, tub and tile cleaners, water-based glues, paintbrush cleaners with trisodium phosphate and lye-based paint strippers.

I want to store some water for a possible emergency. Is bottled water okay to store?

No. Bottled water is a good source of drinking water during emergencies, but it does not store well. Because it generally doesn’t contain a disinfectant, microbes grow in it over time. If your water stops flowing during an emergency, remember the water in your hot water-tank, melted ice cubes and the water from your toilet tank reservoir can be used. If you have the ability to do so, boiling these sources of water is always a good idea before drinking.

Why does my drinking water taste or smell “funny?” Will this smelly water make me sick?

The most common reasons for bad tasting or smelling water are:

Different algae cause different tastes and odors — grassy, swampy and pigpen, as examples — and the little fungi can cause an earthy-musty taste.

None of the contaminants that could affect your health can be tasted in drinking water, but heavily chlorinated water may contain “reaction products.” Reaction products are created when nontoxic natural chemicals combine with other chemicals to produce harmful chemicals. Therefore, some “natural” chemicals must be watched closely by your water supplier.

What is hard water?

“Hardness” in drinking water is caused by two nontoxic chemicals — calcium and magnesium. If calcium and/or magnesium are present in your water in substantial amounts, the water is said to be hard because making a lather or suds for washing is hard (difficult) to do. Thus, cleaning with hard water is hard/difficult. On the other hand, water containing little calcium or magnesium is called soft water.

What is the source my drinking water?

The Great lakes Water Authority gets all of its water from the Detroit River and Lake Huron.

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