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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.

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What to do if you have discoloured water?

The important thing is not to worry – we have skilled staff who are here to help. We appreciate your patience throughout a water discolouration event. 

Discolouration can occur for several reasons, the most likely is that there is an outage in your area. The first thing you should do is check our unplanned outage page here. If there is an outage, you will need to wait for it to resolve. 

If there is no outage, or the outage has been resolved, we suggest you run the tap closest to the water 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. The discolouration will usually dissipate within the hour. 

If you’re still experiencing discoloured water after an hour, please give our team a call on 02 6248 3111 (select option 1).

Black, brown, orange or yellow coloured water

Why this might be occurring

Water may appear straw-coloured yellow, orange, brown or black for a number of reasons. Within Icon’s Water supply, this is usually due to a disturbance of the naturally-occurring iron and manganese minerals that exist in our network. This sediment is normally settled at the bottom of the water pipes and doesn’t reach your water meter.

Water may also appear discoloured due to the age and condition of internal plumbing at your property, including within hot water systems, or as a result of corrosion of pipes and fittings; particularly those made of galvanised iron.

Any disturbance resulting in discolouration should be temporary.

How you can investigate

Use a white container or glass to compare the water collected within different taps of your home and the water at the garden tap closest to the meter. Consider the taps being investigated and what the observations will tell you about the source of the issue.

 

  • Take note of the time of day and when the tap was last used
  • Take note of the type of tap being used – is the tap a flick mixer, a hot tap, a cold tap or a front garden tap? For instance, flick mixers can be can be receiving water from the hot water service even when running ‘cold’
  • Run the tap for three minutes, collect a sample and observe the water within natural daylight. If using a glass, place a white piece of paper behind and underneath to assist with your observations

     

What to do if discolouration is ongoing at the front garden tap

If the discolouration is observed at the garden tap closest to your meter and this doesn’t clear in 24 hours or you don’t have a garden tap, ask your neighbours if they are experiencing the same issue, as this may be a result of a change in the network.

Most of the time Icon Water is aware of faults in the network and we can manage any discolouration before it reaches your property. We don’t always know there’s a network issue and we rely on our customers to report these incidents. If discoloured water is persisting at your front garden tap, we encourage you to contact us on 02 6248 3111.

What to do if discolouration is ongoing from internal sources

If the discolouration is only observed at internal taps, this is an indicator that you may have internal plumbing issues and you may wish to engage a licenced plumber for advice. Helpful things to look out for are:

  • Discolouration isolated to hot water taps or hot/cold mixers 
    • This could be due to a deteriorated hot water service
  • Discolouration noticed after periods of low use (e.g. in the morning)
    • If this clears after running the tap for 3 minutes it is an indicator that deteriorating pipes are releasing colour to water when the lines are stagnant

Blue or green coloured water

Why this might be occurring

Copper pipes and fittings, commonly used for internal plumbing of buildings and households, can be affected by corrosion. Corrosion can occur on newly installed copper or as a result of a pipe’s condition or age.

The occurrence of copper corrosion can result in a metallic or bitter taste, distinct blue/green or cloudy water, blue particles and staining of fittings. While copper is a natural part of human diets, the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines warn about the health risk of consuming water with elevated copper levels.

While water usually appears colourless in a glass, water is intrinsically a slight blue colour. This can be seen in lakes, oceans, and swimming pools which are not ‘reflecting the sky’, but in fact absorbing red or orange light (complementary colours to blue). If you’re only noticing a slight pale-blue colour within deeper containers such as a full bath or sink, rather than an indicator of copper corrosion, this can often be an optical effect due to water absorbing colours in the red part of the visible light spectrum.

How you can investigate

Use a container to compare the water collected within your home to the water at the garden tap closest to the meter. Consider the taps being investigated and what the observations will tell you about the source of the issue.

 

  • At full flow, run water into a small white container or glass
  • Take note of the time of day and when the tap was last used
  • Take note of the type of tap being used – is the tap a flick mixer, a hot tap, a cold tap or a front garden tap? For instance, flick mixers can receive water from the hot water service even when running ‘cold’
  • Let the water stand for a few seconds and observe the water within natural daylight. If using a glass, place a white piece of paper behind and underneath to assist with your observations
  • Consider flushing your tap until clear

    If the blue, green or cloudy colour is only observed at internal taps, we suggest that you contact a licenced plumber for advice. 


If the blue, green or cloudy colour is observed at the garden tap closest to your meter or you have concerns about the water supplied to your meter, please contact us on 02 6248 3111. You can also find information about the level of copper detected in Canberra’s water supply in our Annual Report.

Coloured sediment in water

Why this might be occurring

This is usually due to a disturbance of the naturally-occurring iron and manganese minerals that exist in our network. This sediment is normally settled at the bottom of the water pipes and doesn’t reach your water meter. Any disturbance resulting in sediment should be temporary. 

Sediment may also appear due to the age and condition of internal plumbing at your property; including corroded pipes and fittings; particularly those made of galvanised iron.

How you can investigate

Use a white container or glass to compare the water collected within different taps of your home and the water at the garden tap closest to the meter. Consider the taps being investigated and what the observations will tell you about the source of the issue.
 

  • Take note of the time of day and when the tap was last used
  • Take note of the type of tap being used – is the tap a flick mixer, a hot tap or a cold tap or front garden tap? For instance, flick mixers can be can be receiving water from the hot water service even when running ‘cold’
  • Run the tap for three minutes, collect a sample and observe the water within natural daylight. If using a glass, place a white piece of paper behind and underneath to assist with your observations
     

What to do if sediment is ongoing at the front garden tap

If the sediment is observed at the garden tap closest to your meter and this doesn’t clear in a reasonable timeframe (e.g. one hour) or you don’t have a garden tap, ask your neighbours if they are experiencing the same issue, as this may be a result of a change in the network.

If sediment is persisting at your front garden tap, we encourage you to contact us on 02 6248 3111.

What to do if sediment is ongoing from internal sources

If the sediment is only observed from internal taps, this is an indicator that you may have internal plumbing or maintenance issues and you may wish to engage a licenced plumber for advice. Helpful things to look out for are:
 

  • Sediment isolated to hot water taps or hot/cold mixers
    • This could be due to a deteriorated hot water service
  • Sediment noticed after periods of low use (e.g. in the morning)
    • This should clear after flushing but is an indicator that deteriorating pipes are releasing particles to water when the lines are stagnant
       

Mould and slime surface stains

Why this might be occurring
Mould-like staining within faucets, basins, toilet cisterns, dog bowls, shower heads and other kitchen and bathroom surfaces is common around the home. Airborne bacteria grow particularly well in places which are warm and moist and often produce visible pigments that can range in colour from pink and orange to black. These bacteria exist naturally in the environment and do not come from Icon Water’s supply. 

Filter cartridges that haven’t been regularly replaced are also prone to build-up of similar particles.

How you can investigate
You can minimise the occurrence of the problem by regularly cleaning surfaces with chlorine-based disinfectant. Improving the ventilation to the area and keeping surfaces dry will also help to control the problem.

Regularly cleaning the inside of tap fittings (particularly those with mesh-like inserts) will also minimise the issue.

Black specks in water

Why this might be occurring
Black specks are almost certainly a sign of an internal plumbing issue. Unlike dark-coloured sediment, the particles are really distinctive, usually small (similar in size to cracked pepper) and sometimes appear angular. The particles 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 larger amounts).

Icon Water have conducted extensive investigations which have shown these black specks are not caused by any issue or problem with the water distribution network.

Black specks can be caused by a range of things, including flexible hose connections (often with a stainless steel braided outer layer) connected to items such as flick-mixers in kitchen sinks, washers inside toilet cisterns, tap washers, gaskets, O-rings and internal hot water system components.

How you can investigate
If you’re experiencing ‘black specks’ in your drinking water we suggest that you contact a licenced plumber for advice.

Locating the source can be difficult because there are many potential sources that are not all 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.

While unlikely, in the event the particles are observed at your front garden tap, we encourage you to contact us on 02 6248 3111.

White, grey or cloudy water

Why this might be occurring
White, grey, cloudy or milky coloured water is often a result of small, harmless air bubbles in the water. This may be a result of network operations causing air to enter the Icon Water mains network, or it could be caused by internal plumbing, such as aeration devices or hot water services.

In the case of air, water will clear if left to stand for a few minutes and is safe to drink.

How you can investigate

  • Use a clear glass to compare the water collected within different taps in your home to the water at the garden tap closest to the meter. Consider the taps being investigated and what the observations will tell you about the source of the issue.
  • Take note of the time of day and when the tap was last used
  • Take note of the type of tap being used – is the tap a flick mixer, a hot tap or a cold tap or front garden tap? For instance, flick mixers can be can be receiving water from the hot water service even when running ‘cold’
  • Fill the glass with water
  • Let the water stand and observe how the water behaves
    • If the water clears from the bottom-upwards, this is aerated water, which is safe for consumption and will clear over time

      If the water does not clear at all from the internal pipes or the water does not clear from the bottom upwards, we suggest you contact a licenced plumber for advice.

      If the water at the garden tap closest to your meter does not appear to be aerated water, does not clear within 48 hours or you don’t have a garden tap, ask your neighbours if they are experiencing the same issue as this may be a result of a change in the network. For persistent cloudy water appearing to be originating in our network, we encourage you to contact us on 02 6248 3111.

Is discoloured water safe to drink, cook with, bathe in, or use to wash clothes or dishes?

We do not recommend that you drink, bathe 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.