Why can water be odoriferous and what to do about it

Published 4:36 pm Friday, December 1, 2017

The extension office gets several calls per month concerning the water supply to the house. What usually tops the list of concerns is that the water has an odor.

Water testing may not necessarily determine what causes the odor. Most calls are from those who are on a well for their water supply.  The next step is to play water detective.

If the odor doesn’t occur in all the faucets and goes away after running the tap for a few minutes, the cause is somewhere in the fixtures or pipes supplying those specific faucets. If the odor is in all the faucets and goes away after a few minutes it is somewhere in the plumbing system and not in the water supply.

If the odor occurs in all the faucets and does not go away you need to determine whether only the hot tap smells, the cold tap smells or both. If the hot tap smells only, the cause is the magnesium rod in the hot water tank. If both have an odor, the cause of the odor is either in the water source or both the water source and the plumbing system.

If both you and your neighbor have the same problem, it may be from the public water supply.

A simple way to isolate the odor is to fill a glass with tap water and move away from the sink area. If the water stops smelling the odor is coming from the sink area. If it continues to smell, it’s in the water supply. If this is the case at all the faucets, the source is in the water supply.

A common source of odors is from bacterial growth in the sink drains. Disinfecting and flushing the drain are a simple fix. Odors trapped in the plumbing system can release sulfurous or sewage-like smells and can interact with chlorine added to the public water supplies. Hot water heaters may also produce odors if the thermostat is set too low or left unused. A licensed plumber is needed to replace the magnesium rod with an acceptable alternative such as an aluminum rod. The recommendation is to flush these systems as well.

How do odors get into the water supply? Shallow wells, also called bored wells, may be contaminated from surface runoff, septic tanks improperly located too close to the well and leaking underground storage tanks. These types of smells include bleach, and gasoline type odors. Anytime gasoline, turpentine, petroleum, or fuel-like or solvent-like odors are detected stop drinking the water immediately and call the county health department.

Harmful bacteria may be indicated by fishy, earthy, musty or sulfurous odors. Shock chlorination is recommended when bacterial contamination is suspected.

This is for both bored wells and drilled wells. If shock chlorination does not solve the problem, call a well company equipped with a camera that can inspect the well pipes for cracks or damage that might be a source of contamination.

Anytime maintenance is performed on your well can lead to contamination. The bacteria on your hands are enough to contaminate the well system. If you are watering livestock with a tank and leave the hose running on the bottom of the tank, back siphoning can occur. If your hose pipe does not have a anti-back siphoning valve, bacteria can easily enter your well.

We have two excellent UGA extension bulletins that address this issue, “Disinfecting Your Well water: Shock Chlorination,” and “Your Household Water Quality: Odors In your Water.” You can print them online by searching for UGA publications or drop by the office for a copy.

If you suspect something else is the matter with your water supply you can have it tested through the UGA lab services. Bring in a sample in a sterile container such as a small mason jar that has been washed in a dishwasher or a just purchased water bottle. Empty the water out and the bottle will be sterile. Your sample should be the first draw usually taken in the morning before any water is used or after you return from work in the afternoon. It should be at least six hours since the previous use. Let the water run for about 10 to 15 minutes. Use the faucet closest to the well head.

It is recommended that you test your well every year or so.

What’s going on in Extension?

Dec. 7: Training for Farmers and Growers on the Produce Safety Rule. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. lunch is $10. Register at: http://bit.ly/psa-troup  Call the office for more information.

If you have any questions or concerns, stop by or call the office.

Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup County Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 144 Sam Walker Drive, LaGrange. 30240 (706) 883-1675. Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m.