Water discolouration

We’re pretty lucky in Canberra, we have high quality drinking water and widespread water discolouration doesn’t happen too often.

We maintain, protect and renew a water network of about 3,400km of pipes. Some of these pipes are up to 100 years old and can get damaged or burst, so occasionally you might see water discolouration.


  • What makes the water discoloured?

    Change in water colour normally occurs when the natural sediment is disturbed within the pipes. Sometimes it can cause water to go brown, reddish colour, white or cloudy or have black specks.

    Discolouration can happen for a number of reasons:

    • Naturally occurring sediment in our pipes can be disturbed, usually because there’s a sudden increase in water flow such as during a burst or high demand during the drier months. 
    • A water main has burst, and to repair it we need to shut off water and then start it again, which disturbs the sediment in our pipes.
    • We’re doing repairs or upgrades to our network, such as our Water Mains Renewal Program or reservoir cleaning
    • Water is flowing in the opposite direction through the network.
    • Water has been drawn at a fast rate from a water hydrant
    • A valve in the network has unexpectedly shut off or open water supply.
    • A faulty water meter.

    Most of the time Icon Water is aware of the fault in the network and we can manage any discolouration before it reaches our customers (change network configuration, flush etc.). Unfortunately, given the amount of mains we look after, we don’t always know there’s an issue with water discolouration, and we rely on our customers to report these incidents. We then track and map these calls to try and identify a cause and get it fixed.

  • Is discoloured water safe to drink, cook with, bath in, or wash clothes or dishes?

    We do not recommend that you drink, bath or cook with discoloured water that appears, tastes or smells objectionable. It’s better not to use household appliances, such as your dishwasher or washing machine due to possible staining or discolouration of clothes.
  • Black specks in my water

    Have you noticed black specs or particles in your drinking water? It’s almost certainly due to degrading of parts of your internal plumbing.

    The particles are really distinctive, usually small (similar in size to cracked pepper), stick and smear on surfaces, and don’t dissolve in water. They often come and go without warning, and in very small amounts (although in extreme cases there can be bigger amounts). 

    We’ve conducted extensive investigations which have shown these black specs are not caused by any issue or problem with the bigger water distribution network.

    So what causes black specs in my water?

    Black specs can be caused by a whole range of things, but particular culprits include flexible hose connections (often with a stainless steel braided outer layer) such as flick-mixers to kitchen sinks, and bathroom fittings such as toilets and basins.

    Deteriorating washers inside toilet cisterns, tap washers, gaskets, O-rings and internal hot water system components can also cause black specs in your water.   

    If you’re experiencing ‘black specks’ in your drinking water you should contact a licensed plumber to investigate. It could be difficult to locate because there are many potential sources and they may not all be readily accessible. We recommend that you sequentially and systematically document which taps are affected, and whether it occurs when you are using hot or cold water, to help the plumber locate the origin of the particles.

  • White, cloudy or milky coloured water

    White, cloudy or milky coloured water is often a result of small air bubbles in the water. A number of these occurrences are due to aeration devices on internal plumbing (for example mixer taps) or may be a result of network operations causing air to enter the Icon Water mains network. 

    In the case of air, water will clear if left to stand for a few minutes. Icon Water do not recommend drinking water that appears, smells or tastes objectionable. Concerned customers are asked to contact our Faults and Emergencies Team on 02 6248 3111 (option 1).

    As per the Icon Water Standard Customer Contract, we are committed to providing a high quality water supply to the community, and endeavour to minimise the impacts of water operations on the water quality supplied.  Unfortunately, we are unable to guarantee that there will be no variations in water quality from time to time. We are committed to providing customers appropriate and timely advice through the publication of media releases, updates on our website, and Twitter alerts (@iconwater).

  • Who do I contact to report water discolouration (or any other fault)?

    Please report water discolouration to our Faults and Emergency team on 02 6248 3111 (select option 1) and provide details including:

    Your name


    Description of the  water colour

    How long it has been discoloured

    Any occupants with health issues.

    You may also be asked to answer some specific questions in relation to the issue. The more detail you can provide us the faster we can fix the problem.
  • What can I do when water discolouration happens at my house or work?

    The important thing is not to worry – we have skilled staff who are working on fixing faults as soon as possible. We appreciate your patience throughout a water discolouration event while we find and fix the cause. It might help initially to run the tap closest to the meter (usually front garden tap) for three minutes to clear the water and prevent discolouration from going further into the property. You can collect the water and use it elsewhere such as on the garden.

    Generally discoloured water clears with normal water use. If you’ve done this and it’s still discoloured, have a look at our website or Twitter feed, or give us a call 02 6248 3111 (select option 1) for updates about what’s going on.

  • How long does water discolouration last?

    It is really hard to estimate how long water discolouration could last due to the complexity of the water network. Usually discolouration will pass within a few hours once the cause has been found and fixed. Have a look at our website or Twitter feed, or give us a call 02 6248 3111 for up-to-date information.
  • What other water sources can I use until discolouration clears?

    There are a few options you can consider for temporary alternate water sources when you’re experiencing water discolouration, such as:

    • Fill bottles using public water sources in other areas, such as public water fountains.
    • If you have a gym membership, consider using their shower facilities
    • Ask friends or family in an unaffected neighbourhood if you can use their water
    • Some people like to keep a jug of water in the fridge just in case they need it
    • Include a supply of bottled water in your emergency kit.

  • How does Icon Water find out about water discolouration?

    Icon Water usually knows about discoloured water due to the location and nature of the fault and we proactively manage it before it reaches our customers. On occasions, we cannot control the discoloured water before it reaches your tap or we are unaware of the issue causing the problem. In these instances, we rely on you, our customers and community, to report discolouration.

    Call us on 02 6248 3111 (select option 1) to let us know where and when it’s happening so we can work out why and fix it.

  • Why doesn’t Icon Water stop water discolouration from happening in the first place?

    Unfortunately, it’s not possible to prevent your water from being occasionally discoloured. Icon Water manages our network in a way to prevent discoloured water impacting on our customers. We have some projects in place to prevent discoloured water.  We also know that you want Icon Water to get the balance right between running the network smoothly, and maintaining the most efficient price for you.
  • Where can I find more information?

    We are committed to providing you with timely updates and information during water discolouration events using Twitter (@iconwater). Where we can, we also issue media releases so you can plan ahead.