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Water Problems: Symptoms, Tests, and Possible Sources

(* indicates a common Arizona water quality issue)

  Symptom Cause Treatment devices

Visual
(Water appearance)

Cloudiness of water with a yellow, brown or black cast that clears after standing 24 hours *Turbidity

Flocculation and sedimentation
or particle and microfiltration (POE)

Transparent yellow-brown tint to water that doesn’t clear after standing 24 hours *High levels of natural organic matter (NOM), usually in surface water

Activated carbon filtration or chlorination followed by activated carbon filtration

Water utilities use flocculation to remove NOM.

Brown-orange stains or reddish slime or tint to water Presence of dissolved iron and iron bacteria

Low amounts: reduce with particle filter or during reverse osmosis or distillation treatments (POE or POU)
High amounts: remove by potassium permanganate-regenerated oxidizing filter and particle filter (POE)
Very high amounts: remove by chlorination followed by particle filter (POE)
Consider well and distribution/storage shock chlorination to kill iron bacteria.

Brownish color or rusty sediment Suspended iron and manganese particles Particle filter (POE)
Visual
(Staining and deposits)
Blackened or tarnished metal utensils and pipes High chloride and sulfate levels Reverse osmosis unit (POE) or distillation unit (POU)
Blackened or tarnished metal utensils and pipes High water acidity and high hydrogen sulfide Acid-neutralizing filters (calcite or calcite/magnesium oxide) (POE) or addition of alkaline chemicals such as lime
Stains in showers, toilet bowls, and faucet ends *Hardness Water softener (POE or POU)
Excessive staining in showers and aluminum cookware *Salinity Reverse osmosis unit or distillation unit (POU)
Green water stains Acidity Acid neutralizing filters (POE) or addition of alkaline chemicals such as lime
Soap deposits or excessive scaly deposits in plumbing and appliances *Hardness Water softener or reverse osmosis or distillation (POE or POU)
Excessive salt deposits Alkalinity (high pH and sodium) Reverse osmosis or distillation systems (POE)
Consider acid neutralization of excessive alkalinity
Other visual Houseplants stunted or with burned leaf tips *Salinity Reverse osmosis unit or distillation unit (POU)
Taste Taste of chlorine, gasoline, or oil VOCs, including residual chlorine, disinfection byproducts, pesticides, or fuel (gasoline, diesel, oil products) Activated charcoal filter or aeration (POE)
Metallic taste Acidity Acid neutralizing filters (POE) or addition of alkaline chemicals such as lime
Salty or bitter taste *High total dissolved solids, sodium, sulfates, or nitrates (salinity) Reverse osmosis or distillation (POU)
Smell Chlorine-like smell *VOCs, including residual chlorine, disinfection byproducts, pesticides, gasoline products Activated charcoal filter or aeration (POU)
Gasoline-like smell Gasoline, diesel, oil products Activated charcoal filter or aeration (POU)
Earthy, musty, or chemical smell Algae products (geos-min and MIB) Activated charcoal filter (POU)
Rotten egg odor Excessive acidity, lack of oxygen in water source, or contamination by hydrogen sulfide gas (occurs naturally in aquifers and sediments)

Oxidation of water during aeration (POE)
or chlorination and a particle filter (POE)
or oxidizing filter (POE) followed by an activated carbon filter

Acidity control may also be needed.

Illness Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and vomiting Pathogens Remove source of contamination. Reduce pathogens through chlorination, UV radiation, or ozonation (POE). Chloramine chemicals may be used after chlorination is completed in order to maintain acceptable chlorine residual levels.
Appliance/
hardware problems
Early applicance failure *Hardness Water softener (POE or POU)
Poor evaporative cooler performance Build-up of scale on pads (high hardness, high salinity) Use bleed-off mechanism to prevent build-up of salts and minerals (more information on Water Conservation website)
Blackened/tarnished metal utensils and pipes High chloride levels Reverse osmosis unit or distillation unit (POU)
Blackened/tarnished metal utensils and pipes High water acidity and high hydrogen sulfide Acid-neutralizing filters (POE) or addition of alkaline chemicals such as lime

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