Since moving to California a year ago, I have become even more intimately aware of the challenges we face to conserve water and to keep our water supply healthy. And, since we all know that drinking water is essential to our health, finding out if your water supply is healthy is imperative especially when we see alarming incidents of water contamination around our country.

One of my go-to sources for unbiased environmental information is the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and they have some excellent information about water and water contamination. For a recent article on this topic, EWG reviewed public information from water utilities across the country to find the major causes of discolored drinking water and what you can do if you have a concern.

Some top reasons your water could be discolored:

  • A new water source, according to EWG, is one of the most common causes of changes in the quality of your water. An interesting note, “experts say a change in source triggered both the current lead crisis in Flint and a similar debacle in Washington, D.C. in the early 2000s. The switch can give the water different qualities or disrupt the way it flows, both of which can affect the look, taste, odor or healthfulness of your water.”
  • Natural materials like dirt and other naturally occurring sediments can settle at the bottom of water supply lines and cause your water to appear yellow or brown if something causes the water going through your pipes to speed up. Some causes for a speed up could be a water main break or even high service demand.
  • If your cast iron or lead pipes are corroding, rust and other pipe materials will flake off into the water. According to EWG, “iron and manganese produce an orange-to-brown color, while lead may make the water darker and include tiny particles.”
  • Excess air trapped in or moving through your water can give it a milky white or cloudy appearance. The EWG advises, “If your water is milky or opaque, let it sit in a glass until bubbles rise. If the cloudiness disappears, it was caused by air and is not a health concern. If your water is discolored, run cold water from the tap to see if it clears. Check with your neighbors to see if they have similar problems.”
  • Rainwater can wash chemicals into the surface water or groundwater that flows into the source of your tap water which is one reason it is so important to avoid using pesticides on your lawn.

Source: The Environmental Working Group

The bottom line, you should always investigate if there are changes in your water’s color, smell or taste, or if you notice stains on your clothes after you’ve washed them.

To read the EWG article, visit

To find out the specifics of your specific tap water, visit your local utilities website. There is typically a notification if there is upcoming work to a water main or possible changes to the water supply and, if you have a question, be sure to call them and ask for additional information. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also requires that customers are notified, “Any time a situation occurs where there is the potential for human health to be immediately impacted, water suppliers have 24 hours to notify people who may drink the water about the situation.”

Additionally, each public water supplier is required by the EPA to mail their customers a report describing the area’s drinking water quality. This Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) is due by July 1st of each year. The CCR identifies the source of your water and also what is it in. If you have any questions after reading your report, you can call your water supplier to get more information.

Once you know what is in your water, you are able to make an informed choice about appropriate water filters for your unique situation.

Water Filter Buying Guides:

Well Water

The EPA recommends testing for “sulfate, chloride, iron, manganese, hardness and corrosion every three years or if your water changes in color, taste or smell” if you drink water from a well. Contact a state-certified commercial laboratory to get it tested.

Be Proactive

It’s clear that we all need to be proactive about our drinking water. Educate yourself on local issues related to your water and urge Congress and the federal government to update the Safe Drinking Water Act (enacted in 1974) to include and regulate potentially hazardous new chemicals.