Thursday, July 28, 2016

Well Water Problems-Water Suddenly Turns Brown

Regularly, I receive questions about people’s wells through my blog. Recently I received the following question:

Until yesterday our well water was great. No issues that we were aware of. Our well is approximately 10 years old. We allowed our kids to play outside in the water yesterday using slip n slides, water toys etc., after returning inside for the day upon drawing baths noticed the water in the tub was extremely brown, clear when coming out of the faucet but turned brown upon standing. Same thing in the commodes, sinks, etc. very worried as to what the problem may be. Any suggestions?

Often there are limits to how helpful I can be to questioners because there is not enough information, but this sounds like the likely source of brown water is from drawing the well down. I think the water turning brown in the tub and toilet may simply be the illusion of the difference in the small stream of water and a large mass. Each year when I chlorinate my well to disinfect it and rid the well of all the iron, manganese and crud that accumulates over time I have been fooled by the water appearing clear only to discover that it is still quite brown once I fill my white 3 gallon bucket to check. If I am right, the will should clear up by itself.

To support this guess it would have been helpful to know the depth and recharge rate of the well that way I could make some calculations about water use and how much water there was available to get an idea if using the slip and slide (approximately 3 gallons a minute that an outdoor hose delivers) was drawing down the well. Also, I would run some water from the sink through a coffee filter to see if brown particles are pulled out of solution.

It is typical in Virginia not to have well casing beyond 40-50 feet deep. The Balls Bluff Siltstone and red clay common to this area does not typically need a casing. The most common modern well installation is to have an immersion pump installed in the well. Changes in water level from using the “Slip n Slide” or supply could result in the pump pulling up a bit of mud or rust from the bottom or the pump could have wracked a bit and is hitting the side of the well hole. So that water that suddenly turns brown may indicate a problem with the well structure or water level, it is most likely just over use of the well.

If your suddenly brown water is not a result of overdrawing the well and does not clear up in a day or so. Another common source of brown water is iron (and/or manganese) in the water. Iron and manganese can occur in water in a number of different forms. One of these forms is Ferrous iron and manganous manganese. In this instance the tap water would appear clear at first but develops black- or rust-colored particles that ultimately settle to the bottom. Iron is harmless, but can affect taste and use of water. You might want to test the waster to determine if you have iron or manganese present. An appropriate response to the confirmed presence of iron is to install the right treatment system. An oxidizing filter treatment system is effective in treating iron and manganese at combined concentrations of up to 15 mg/L.

Never install a treatment system until you have fully tested your water. Then, pick the water treatment system. Though water softeners often remove small amounts of iron, they are rarely the right solution for an iron and manganese problem. Based on the writer’s description of what happened, I feel confident that the problem will clear up on its own.

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