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Drinking Water Quality FAQs

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What is chloramine and why is it added to water?

Chloramine is a disinfectant used to treat drinking water and formed when ammonia is added to chlorine. Chatham County Utilities Water Treatment Plant is responsible for treating your drinking water, uses chlorine as a  primary disinfectant and chloramine as a secondary disinfectant. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the safe use of chloramine and requires Chatham County to meet strict health standards when chloramine is used for drinking water disinfection.

When water from the water treatment plant enters the distribution system, chloramine provides protection against contaminants as it moves through the mains in the streets and reaches your taps. This long-lasting protection is greater than chlorine, which is important for large distribution systems.  Chloramine also lowers the levels of certain byproducts of water disinfection —known as disinfection byproducts (DBPs)— that may lead to health risks.

Does Chatham County Utilities monitor chloramine levels?

Chatham County routinely monitors the chloramine and chlorine levels throughout the water distribution system. 

Is chloramine safe in water used for kidney dialysis?

No, chloramine must be removed from water used for kidney dialysis. Please contact your physician or kidney dialysis center for the appropriate water treatment process.

Can I use tap water treated with chloramine in my fish aquarium?

No, water treated with chloramine can be harmful to fish. Chemical additives are available for removing chloramine from water used in fish tanks or ponds. Contact your local pet store for the appropriate water treatment for fish tanks.

For more information about chloramine, please visit the EPA Web site.  

Taste, Color, and Odor

My water is brownish in color, what should I do?
If your water is brownish or rusty in color, the cause is likely iron. Iron in drinking water is not a health risk but can cause discoloration and is often the result of aging pipes made of iron. Chatham County Water's distribution system has many pipes made of iron that are known to have fragile iron scales. During water main breaks or construction, interruption of normal water flow and disturbance of pipe walls may release the iron scale and cause discoloration.

Discoloration from iron is usually temporary and should disappear after water is flushed from the distribution system or your home plumbing. Chatham County recommends not drinking tap water if it is discolored. In addition, do not wash clothes when water appears rusty, because the rust can stain fabric. Flushing your cold water tap for 15 minutes should clear up discolored water. If the color does not disappear after 15 minutes of flushing, contact the Customer Service at 919-542-8270.

Why do I sometimes see work crews flushing fire hydrants?

Chatham County Water regularly flushes fire hydrants throughout the County for drinking water quality and remove scale build-up in pipes. When crews flush hydrants and remove this material from the hydrant and several miles of pipe, it comes out of a hydrant all at once, and the water may initially look discolored. If you watch our workers flush, you will notice that the water clears up rather quickly. 

Why does tap water sometimes look milky or cloudy?

Milky or cloudy water is often caused by air that enters pipes and escapes in the form of oxygen bubbles when water leaves your tap. Cloudiness and air bubbles do not present a health risk. During colder months, water in outside pipes is colder and holds more oxygen than your household pipes. Consequently, when the cold water entersmilky faucet your building and begins to warm, the oxygen bubbles escape and cause the water to look milky. Construction in the distribution system can also allow air to enter the pipes and cause the appearance of cloudy water.

Cloudiness and air bubbles should naturally disappear in a few minutes. You can test this by running the water into a clear container and observing for a few minutes. If the water clears from the bottom to the top of the container, air bubbles are rising to the surface. If the cloudiness does not disappear, contact Customer Service at 919-542-8270.

All of the strainers in my faucets are clogging with white particles. What could this be?

Aerators are strainers that attach to your faucet or showerhead and break up the flow of water as it leaves your tap. Aerator screens can collect particles found in water and should be routinely cleaned throughout the year and replaced once a year. Particle build up is often white and comes from a variety of sources.

AeratorThe most common source of build up in aerators is from the hot water heater. The hot water heater dip tube is made of a nontoxic plastic material called polypropylene. This plastic can break apart or disintegrate and travel in hot water to your faucet, eventually collecting in the aerator.

Dissolved calcium is naturally found in our drinking water and can naturally change to calcium carbonate in hot water heaters. Over time, calcium carbonate may accumulate at the bottom of the hot water heater and collect in your aerators.

To determine whether the material is calcium carbonate or polypropylene, place the material in a small amount of distilled vinegar. If the particle begins to "bubble" within a few minutes or is mostly dissolved within 24 hours, it is likely calcium carbonate. If no bubbling occurs or the particle does not dissolve, it is likely polypropylene.

If you are experiencing a calcium carbonate problem, we recommend flushing the hot water heater. Contact a plumber or download instructions for draining your hot water heater (PDF 244 kb) . (source: DCWASA)

If you are experiencing a polypropylene problem, call the manufacturer of your hot water heater.

Why do I sometimes see black particles in my tap water?
The common cause of black particles in tap water is the disintegration of rubber materials used in plumbing fixtures. Plumbing gaskets and o-rings disintegrate over time and can collect in toilet tanks and around faucets. Similar problems are common in newly constructed or renovated buildings. In addition, the use of chloramine as a disinfectant is known to cause rapid disintegration of some types of plumbing fixtures. If you experience rapid disintegration of o-rings and gaskets (within one to two years of installation), contact the manufacturer to request plumbing fixtures that are resistant to chloramine.

If you have filters attached to your plumbing system or a water pitcher that uses carbon filters to remove contaminants, these can also contribute to the presence of black particles. The small carbon particles of these filters are black and can pass through in your water. Black particles can also come from precipitated iron and manganese in water, which may come loose from pipe walls after a large main break or major construction.

Flushing the system and your taps will likely resolve the issue of black particles caused by plumbing fixtures or construction. If black particles are from your filter, you should replace the filter as recommended by the manufacturer. If the problem continues after flushing and you have determined that the source is not a rubber gasket or filter, please contact Customer Service at 919-542-8270.

What is the white residue I sometimes find on cookware, in the shower and even in ice cubes?

White residue is commonly found in showers and kitchenware as the result of dissolved minerals found in water, such as calcium and magnesium. Mineral particles can also be visible in ice cubes made with tap water. These minerals are not a risk to human health but can build up on surfaces over time. Commercial products are available to remove white residue caused by minerals in water. 

Sometimes I smell an odor from my tap. What could this be?

An odor from your tap is commonly from the sink drain and not the water. The plumbing beneath your sink, typically the u-shape pipe, can collect debris over time and create an odor at your tap. If you smell an odor, fill a clean glass halfway with tap water and smell the water in a separate room or outdoors. If the odor is no longer present, the odor is likely from the plumbing beneath your sink. We recommend pouring bleach or a disinfection product down your drain to remove any debris and odor.

What can I do if my water smells and tastes like chlorine?

Chatham County Utilities disinfects the drinking water with chlorine and chloramine to ensure protection against contaminants throughout the distribution system and in your home. Chatham County routinely collects and analyzes samples throughout the county to ensure chlorine levels are at or below our stringent target level. However, at times customers may notice an increase in chlorine taste and odor. A chlorine odor is often an indicator that the disinfectant is effectively working to remove bacteria and debris in your pipes.

If you are experiencing a chlorine odor, Chatham County recommends flushing your cold water taps for 5-10 minutes for three days to eliminate the odor and remove any bacteria and debris. If you experience a chlorine taste, we recommend collecting and refrigerating cold water after running your cold tap for at least two minutes or after another high water use activity such as bathing or washing clothes. Use clean, sterile (dishwasher-safe) bottles or pitchers for collecting cold tap water and refrigerate in an open container. Within a few hours, the chlorine taste and odor will disappear and the water will be conveniently cold for drinking.

Why do I see pink stains on my faucets, showers, etc? Click here for information regarding pink stains in wet areas

Water Hardness

How "hard" is the water in Chatham County?

Water hardness refers to the mineral content of water, commonly calcium and magnesium. Chatham County's water is "moderately hard" and may vary throughout the county (North Chatham). Hardness also varies by seasons of the year. Hardness usually peaks during the warmer months (July through September) and is lower during the winter months.

When using dishwashers, you may notice a slight increase in "spotting" on glassware or white residue in kitchenware and showers. This usually occurs in the summer, when hardness is at its highest. This residue consists mainly of calcium carbonate, the same ingredient found in anti-acid products and not a known health risk. The hardness of the county's tap water is typically around 33 to 40 parts per million.


How does lead enter the water system?

Lead enters the water from the corrosion of materials containing lead. Lead service lines that connect your house to the mains in the street, lead-based solder used to join copper pipe, and brass and chrome-plated brass faucets in your home can wear away over time and release lead. When water stands for several hours in lead pipes or lead plumbing fixtures, lead may dissolve in drinking water. If you have lead service lines, the first water you draw from the tap in the morning or after you return home from an absence of several hours may have higher levels of lead. Flushing your water for two minutes when the tap has not been used for several hours can bring in fresh, high-quality water from the distribution system.

What is a Lead and Copper Action Level?

The EPA sets the Lead and Copper Action Level. This is not a health-based standard. Exceeding an action level requires specific changes to drinking water treatment to reduce pipe corrosion or other requirements that a water system must follow. The action level for lead and copper is triggered when the concentration of lead exceeds 15 parts per billion or the concentration of copper exceeds 1300 parts per billion after the water has been sitting in the pipe for at least six hours.


Is fluoride in Chatham's drinking water?

Chatham County Utilities adds fluoride to the drinking water supplied to the North Chatham Water System.

What is the optimal level of fluoride in drinking water?

The optimal level for fluoride is intended to prevent tooth decay and protect public health. In January 2011, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a revised recommendation for the optimal level of fluoride in drinking water. Based on new research, HHS recommends a fluoride level of 0.7 mg/L as optimal for ensuring public health protection. In the past, HHS supported a fluoride level between 0.7 to 1.2 mg/L, as safe and effective in preventing tooth decay. For more information on the HHS recommendation, please visit the HHS website.

What is EPA's drinking water standard for fluoride?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency's (US EPA) maximum contaminant level (MCL) and maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for fluoride is 4 mg/L. According to the U.S. EPA, "Some people who drink water containing fluoride in excess of the MCL over many years could get bone disease, including pain and tenderness of the bones. Fluoride in drinking water at half the MCL or more may cause mottling of children's teeth, usually in children less than nine years old. Mottling, also known as dental fluorosis, may include brown staining and/or pitting of the teeth, and occurs only in developing teeth before they erupt from the gums." For more information about fluoride, visit the EPA website.

What is the maximum contaminant level (MCL) and maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG)?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a MCL is the "highest level of a contaminant that is allowed in drinking water. MCLs are set as close to the MCLGs as feasible using the best available treatment technology." A MCLG is the "level of a contaminant in drinking water below which there is no known or expected risk to health. MCLGs allow for a margin of safety."

For additional information regarding water quality, please see Chatham County's Annual Drinking Water Quality Report