Water Quality FAQs
Our customers often have questions about water quality, whether or not they are having an issue. If you don’t find the answer to your question below, please contact our water quality staff.
619-667-6248 or 619-443-1031
During business hours
For after hours emergencies
Taste and Odor
A metallic taste in water can be caused by metals leeching into the water from old pipes under and within an old home. Have a licensed plumber check the pipes. Another potential cause is a change in a customer’s body chemistry due to a new medication. Check your medications and their potential side effects with your doctor.
Musty or Earthy Odor in Hot Water Only
The hot water heater is the likely cause of this issue.
Musty or Earthy Odor in Hot or Cold Water
Earthy and musty off-flavors in water occur worldwide, come from nature and have no known health effects at their natural levels.
Earthy and musty odors can be found in natural waters and in soils, as well as in beets and corn (because they are grown in contact with soil). In waterways, when certain algae grow in abundance in what we call an algae bloom, high levels of these odors are produced. These taste and odor problems are sporadic and usually occur in the summertime when weather conditions are most likely to induce an algae bloom. The technical name for the chemicals produced by the majority of odor-causing algae is 2-methylisoborneol (MIB) and geosmin.
Helix uses ozone in the treatment process and one of its benefits is that it is very effective at removing earthy and musty flavors and odors. However, even at extremely low levels, such as 5 parts per trillion, highly sensitive people can still taste or smell them. When a large algae bloom occurs, more people detect an issue. A way of masking this harmless musty taste and odor is chilling your tap water.
Algae-related water quality issues usually clear up in a few days.
Helix Water District has been using ozone as its primary disinfectant since 2002. Chloramines, a combination of chlorine and ammonia, are added to the water at the end of the treatment process in order to maintain a disinfection residual. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions on chloramines. If you have further questions, please call us at 619-667-6248 during business hours or at 619-466-3234 after hours.
What are chloramines?
Chloramines are a combination of chlorine and ammonia and are one of several U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved disinfectants used to remove pathogenic (disease causing) microorganisms in water. (1)
What are the benefits of chloramines vs chlorine?
Chloramines last longer than chlorine in water and as a result are better able to control microbiological growth and contamination. Chloramines create fewer byproducts, such as trihalomethanes (THMs). THMs form when chlorine mixes with natural organic substances in water. Generally, chloramines create far less taste and odor complaints than free chlorine alone. Additionally, Helix Water District uses ozone as part of its treatment process, further reducing taste and odor issues.
Are chloramines safe?
Yes, chloramines have been safely used in the United States since the early 1900s, and are commonly used in southern California, across the nation, and worldwide. Chloraminated water is safe for the general public and for people with suppressed immune systems or other diseases. Like chlorine, chloramines will be safe for everyday uses like drinking, bathing and cooking for people, dogs and cats. However, as with chlorine, chloramines must be removed or neutralized for aquatic animals and kidney dialysis patients. (2)
How do I keep my aquatic animals safe?
Just like chlorine, chloramines can harm all saltwater and freshwater fish, shellfish, amphibians and some reptiles because they take chloramines directly into the bloodstream through their gills or skin. Pond and aquarium owners should purchase a water conditioner or filter to remove chloramines. Pet supply stores, aquarium shops and veterinarians can advise customers on the best treatments for tanks and ponds.
Please note that although boiling water, reverse osmosis, salt additives, and letting water sit for a few days are practices sometimes used to remove chlorine, they do NOT remove chloramines.
How do chloramines affect kidney dialysis patients?
Like chlorine, chloramines can harm kidney dialysis patients if they are not removed before water mixes with the patient’s bloodstream. However, kidney dialysis patients can safely drink chloramines because the body naturally neutralizes them before they enter the blood stream.
How do I remove chloramines for home brewing or home photo labs?
Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) filters can be used to remove chloramines and other byproducts if the filter is followed by a reverse osmosis process. Several companies offer GAC filters and systems in San Diego county. Carbon filters need to be changed often.
Is it safe to wash an open wound with chloraminated water?
Yes. It is safe to use chloraminated water in cleaning an open wound. (1 & 2)
What can I do for plumbing parts that may corrode due to chloramines?
As rubber plumbing parts wear out, consumers should replace rubber plumbing components with chloramines-resistant materials such as: high quality rubber (synthetic polymer) parts, flexible copper tubing, tubing made of corrugated stainless flex, or newer neoprene braided stainless steel.
Environmental Protection Agency. 1994. Drinking Water Criteria Document For Chloramines Final Draft ECAO-CIN-D002. March, 1994. Chloramines-EPA-1994
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NTP TR 392 Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Studies of Chlorinated Water (CAS Nos. 7782-50-5 and 7681-52-9) and Chloraminated Water (CAS No. 10599-90-3) (Deionized and Charcoal-Filtered) in F344/N Rats and B6C3F1 Mice (Drinking Water Studies) March 1992.
If your water appears soapy, please call us at 619-667-6248 during business hours or 619-466-3234 after hours, or email us at [email protected].
Plastic or Solvent Odor
Solvent-like odors are more often than not associated with work activities around the home. Recent work on irrigation systems, for instance, can lead to smells related to PVC glue. These odors can be fed back into the home as internal water use draws small amounts of water out of the irrigation system and into the interior plumbing. Solvent odors due to irrigation work are generally short-lived and can be removed by flushing water through the home’s faucets.
Additionally, solvents introduced into a water meter box or into the soil around a PVC (plastic) service line can create noticeable odors. This results from solvents penetrating the plastic and entering the water. The intentional discharge of paints, solvents or any other chemicals into the meter box is illegal and a finable offense. Please contact HWD immediately if you observe anyone doing so. The only means to rectify such a problem is to replace any piping and contaminated soil in the immediate area. The soil is considered hazardous waste and is very costly to dispose of properly.
If you are experiencing problems of this sort that cannot be easily explained, please call us at 619-667-6248 during business hours or 619-466-3234 after hours, or email us at [email protected].
Rotten Eggs Odor
When experiencing a rotten egg type odor at the tap, the first step is to attempt to isolate the source of the odor. First, check to see if the odor is present at all taps or just one. If the odor is present at only one tap, the source of the odor is most likely the drain in that particular sink, shower or bathtub. All of the plumbing fixtures in your home receive water from the same source. Therefore, if the water is the source of the odor, it would be present at all the taps.
Food particles, hair and other items have a tendency to build up in drains forming bacterial gases and causing a foul ‘rotten egg’ odor. Often, this odor is stronger in the morning. This is usually due to the fact that the drain hasn’t been used for several hours and the bacterial gases get expelled into the atmosphere when water displaces air in a drain trap. Also, when brushing teeth and hunched over a sink, one is closer to the source.
To remove the rotten egg odor from drain traps, pour ½ cup of household (unscented) bleach into the drain. Most bathroom sinks have an overflow drain that runs from the top of the basin down to the drain. This overflow line also can be a cause of odors as it has a tendency to remain moist and a breeding ground for bacteria and mold. Cleaning this area can be accomplished by filling the sink with a diluted bleach solution to the point of the solution flowing into the overflow. Allow about a cup of it to flow into the overflow and let it sit for about five minutes, then drain. This solution will also clean the trap as it drains. To prevent these odors from returning, routinely flush all drains with half a cup of bleach once a month.
If your sink or shower is clogged or drains running slowly, use a commercial drain-opening product to eliminate any blockages. (DO NOT — USE BOTH commercial drain openers and bleach because this may cause a hazardous reaction.)
If you detect the same odor from all the faucets, the next step is to run some water into a glass and take the glass into another room where there is no plumbing, such as the living room. Is the odor still present?If the odor is no longer present, the source of the odor is within the drains. See the recommendations above regarding flushing drains to prevent odors. If the odor still can be detected when you are not near the drains, determine if the odor is coming from the hot water only, cold only, or both hot and cold:
Hot Water Only
See Hot Water Heaters
Cold Water Only
See Water Filters and Treatment Devices
Both Hot and Cold Water
Please call us at 619-667-6248 or email us at [email protected].
Dirty or Discolored Water
Dirty, Yellow or Brown Water
If your water appears dirty or muddy, it may be due to construction or maintenance within Helix’s distribution system. Sand or sediment in the water lines is most commonly caused by routine flushing of the distribution system through the fire hydrants. This is a routine preventive maintenance activity conducted regularly by Helix Water District.
Flushing the water system on a routine basis removes sediment from lines and keeps the entire distribution system refreshed. As a result of the flushing procedure, residents in the immediate vicinity of the work may experience temporary discoloration of their water. This discoloration consists primarily of harmless silt and precipitates and does not affect the safety of the water.
Crews post signs in the areas in which they are working to help make customers aware of the preventive maintenance activity. If you experience discoloration in your water after crews have been flushing in your neighborhood, clear the pipes in your own home by running all water faucets for a minute or two.
If a few minutes of internal flushing does not seem to improve the water color and both the hot and cold water are affected, please call us at 619-667-6248 during business hours or 619-466-3234 after hours. If just the hot water is affected, see our instructions on how to flush your hot water heater.
Floating, White, Granular Particles
The most common cause of black particles in tap water is the disintegration of rubber materials used in plumbing fixtures. These particles float and often adhere to sinks and bathtubs and can appear sooty or greasy.
Gaskets, hoses connected to water heaters and washing machines, rubber heat traps furnished with some newer water heaters, and o-rings can disintegrate over time and some pieces can collect in tubs, toilet tanks, faucets and other locations. Flexible hoses (braided stainless) are often lined with black rubber. Homeowners should make sure they or their plumbers select hose, gasket and water heater components that are compatible with the drinking water supply in southern California.
Water naturally has a blue hue or color. The degree of blue is dependent upon the water’s physical and chemical characteristics. The amount of dissolved oxygen, for instance, can influence water’s physical characteristics while copper compounds can affect water’s chemical characteristics.
Generally, the more water you see, the greater the degree of perceived blue. A glass of water should appear clear while a bathtub full of water may appear turquoise blue. Excessively blue water, however, may indicate copper corrosion or a possible cross connection within the home’s plumbing. If your water seems unusually blue, please call us at 619-667-6248 during business hours or 619-466-3234 after hours, or email us at [email protected].
White "Milky" Water
Cloudy or milky (white) water is usually caused by an abundance of small air bubbles in the water. These harmless bubbles enter the water when air is drawn into Helix’s water distribution system. The air bubbles in a freshly filled glass of cold water will usually clear after a few minutes.
Pink stains appearing on bathroom fixtures, drainboard surfaces and pet dishes are usually from a bacteria, Serratia marcescens. This pink residue is less likely a problem associated with water quality than with naturally occurring, airborne bacteria. The bacteria produce a pinkish film (sometimes dark gray) and often appear during and after new construction or remodeling activities.
The dirt and dust stirred up by the work probably contains Serratia bacteria. Once airborne, the bacteria seek moist environments to proliferate. These airborne bacteria can come from any number of naturally occurring sources, and the condition can be aggravated if customers remove the chlorine from their water by way of an activated carbon filter.
The best solution to keep these surfaces free from the bacterial film is continual cleaning. A cleanser containing chlorine is best, but use care with abrasives to avoid scratching fixtures, which will make them even more susceptible to bacteria. Keep bathtubs and sinks wiped down and dry. Add 3-5 tablespoons of chlorine bleach to toilet tanks as needed.
The State of California required that Helix begin fluoridating water from its R. M. Levy Water Treatment Plant in December 2007, in conjunction with the startup of Metropolitan Water District’s (MWD’s) fluoridation. In May 2009, the Helix Board authorized staff to continue fluoridation as long as the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) and MWD continue fluoridation. The Helix fluoridation program was approved by the California Department of Public Health, which is now the State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Drinking Water (DDW). This program includes strict monthly reporting to the DDW.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is fluoride?
A. Fluoride is a naturally occurring ionic form of fluorine, the 13th most abundant element on Earth. It is found in many rocks and minerals in the soil and enters drinking water as water passes through these soils. Fluoride is present naturally in almost all foods and beverages including water, but levels can vary widely.
Q. How much fluoride does Helix add to my water?
A. Helix supplements naturally-occurring fluoride in our drinking water to meet the standards established by the DDW. The optimal level of fluoride in our area is 0.7 milligrams per liter (mg/L) with a control range of 0.6-1.2 mg/L. Helix uses fluorosilicic acid, a chemical certified under ANSI/NSF Standard 60 and approved by the DDW.
Q. Should I or my children take fluoride supplements?
A. Helix water customers currently using fluoride supplements are advised to consult their prescribing physician or dentist about taking fluoride supplements.
Q. Will fluoridation affect my children?
A. Parents and caregivers should consult their pediatrician, family physician, or dentist on the most appropriate water to use in their area to reconstitute infant formula. Ask your pediatrician or physician whether fluoridated water should be used in the makeup of baby formula or whether your children should be taking fluoride supplements.
Q. I have a fish tank. Will fluoridation affect my fish?
A. No. Fluoridated water will have no effect on the fish in your aquarium.
For More Information
For questions regarding fluoridation, please send email to: [email protected]. Other informative fluoridation websites are:
American Dental Association
Centers for Disease Control
Division of Drinking Water, California State Water Resources Control Board
Lead and Copper
Lead and copper are not a problem in the Helix Water District distribution system. Helix Water District participated in The Lead and Copper Rule sample monitoring in June, 2015. The homes selected for this program and the protocol used to collect and analyze samples followed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA’s) guidelines. All results for lead and copper were below the U.S. EPA’s Action Levels. There are no lead service lines in the Helix Water District’s distribution system, further reducing the risk of lead in your drinking water.
The Lead and Copper Rule is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandated rule that became effective on December 7, 1992. This rule requires treatment when lead and/or copper in drinking water exceeds certain levels. Lead enters drinking water mainly from the corrosion of lead-containing household plumbing. Since lead and copper contamination generally occur after water has left the public distribution system, the best way to check if consumer water is contaminated is to test water from a household faucet. Monitoring is required every three years. Lead and copper have not been a problem in the Helix distribution system, based on past triennial monitoring results.
Information on lead in drinking water, testing methods and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available at http://www.epa.gov/your-drinking-water/basic-information-about-lead-drinking-wateror by calling the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.
Hard Water Spots on Glassware
Helix water is hard water, which means it is high in mineral content, and can cause white spots on glassware or silverware in your dishwasher and buildup on showerheads. The mineral content of water is described in grains of hardness. Water with 10 or more grains of hardness is considered hard, and imported water from the Colorado River and State Water Project averages 14 grains of hardness.
Read the owner’s manual for your dishwasher as manufacturers often provide recommended settings for hard water. Other tips to reduce spotting include using hotter water, varying the brand and type of rinse agent and detergent, and adding white vinegar to the rinse cycle.
Use vinegar to dissolve hard water buildup on showerheads. Point the showerhead down, cover it with a plastic bag filled with 1-2 cups of vinegar, and tie the bag to the stem behind the showerhead.
Hot Water Heater
The hot water heater is often the cause of several common water quality complaints. Just as water districts routinely flush their water distribution mains to refresh the delivery system, it is a good idea to flush your home’s hot water heater once a year. Unmaintained hot water heaters can produce water that is brown, black, has unidentifiable particles, and/or has a musty or rotten egg odor. Routine flushing will prevent sediment from building up, prolong the life and efficiency of your hot water heater, and prevent water quality problems in your home’s hot water system.
The Dip Tube
If you are noticing white ‘eggshell’ particles in your sink aerators and in the hot water hose of your washing machine, and the particles melt when heated, the dip tube in your hot water heater may be breaking down. The dip tube is located inside the body of your hot water heater and is a plastic pipe by which water is extracted from the tank. Recent changes in the chemical composition of the plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tube by some manufacturers have resulted in shorter life expectancy of the tube, sometimes as short as five years. Flush your hot water heater to temporarily remove the buildup of particles, have a plumber replace the dip tube, or replace the heater. Contact the manufacturer of the hot water heater for recommendations.
How to Flush a Hot Water Heater
Warning: if you have an older hot water heater that has not been maintained regularly, the bottom valve may already be corroded and may make it impossible to shut the valve after flushing. If you are in doubt or if you do not feel comfortable performing home maintenance tasks such as these, contact a plumber for assistance.
1. Hook up a garden hose to the faucet located at the bottom of your hot water heater.
2. Place the other end of the hose so that it can drain to the gutter, sink or flower bed. The water coming out will be hot, so be careful where you place the end of the hose.
3. Turn on the valve slowly and allow to drain until the water coming out of the hose is tepid and/or is clear.
4. Turn off valve and remove hose.
Water Filters and Treatment Devices
Water treatment devices such as charcoal filters and reverse osmosis systems are intended to make water cleaner. However, without proper care and maintenance, a water treatment device can degrade the quality of your water. Unmaintained treatment devices have been found to create odor, taste, color and even bacteriological problems in household water systems.
Since the water provided by Helix Water District meets or exceeds both state and federal standards, there is no need to purchase a treatment device out of health concerns. If you choose to install a treatment device for aesthetic reasons, such as objecting to the taste or odor of chloramines used to purify your water, please ensure that the device is properly maintained. It is critical that the filters are changed at least as often as the manufacturer recommends, or every three to six months.
Sometimes, people don’t even realize they have a treatment device. They may have moved into a home where the previous owner had installed a treatment device of which they were not aware. Treatment devices are normally installed under the kitchen sink, but could also be in a garage or utility room. Another often overlooked treatment device is a water filter on a refrigerator with through-the-door water and ice features. Older refrigerators with this feature require pulling the refrigerator out from the wall to install a clean filter. If you are not able to perform this task yourself, call a qualified maintenance firm for assistance.
Water softeners also require periodic maintenance. Over the years, Helix has received numerous water quality complaints for particles, discolored water, and odd taste caused by water softening units. If you have a water softener and experience a water quality problem with the softened water, start your investigation by bypassing the device, running a faucet a few minutes to flush out the softened water, and then evaluating the water after you have. If the problem persists with the untreated water, please call us at 619-667-6248 during business hours or 619-466-3234 after hours, or email us at [email protected].
Emergency Water Storage and Disinfection
Earthquakes, fires and utility outages come without warning, so now is the time to make preparation for you and your family. It is a simple thing to do. Below are some suggestions on water storage and purification.
- Store in a cool, dark place at least a week’s supply of drinking water for each family member (one gallon per person per day)
- Store at least 2 gallons of water in your vehicle
- Store additional water for hygiene, cooking, and pets
- Replace your stored water every six months
- Clean, heavy, opaque bottles with screw on lids are preferable for storing water
Alternate Water Sources
- Water heater
- Toilet tanks (not the bowl) if the water hasn’t been treated
- Swimming pools (for hygiene purposes only). Drinking swimming pool water is not recommended because chemicals can build up to harmful levels
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and The American Red Cross recommend the following:
- Boil for 5-10 minutes, or
- Add 8 drops of non-concentrated household bleach solution per gallon of water or 5 drops of concentrated household bleach per gallon of clear water, mix well and let stand for 30 minutes. If the water is cloudy, add 5-10 more drops of bleach. A slight smell or taste of chlorine indicates water is adequately disinfected, or
- Add 20 drops of 2% USP tincture of iodine per gallon of water. If water is cloudy, add 20 more drops and let stand 30 minutes, or
- Use commercial purification tablets and follow package instructions
Southern California fish enthusiasts with indoor aquariums or outdoor ponds must be aware of chloramines because they are toxic to fish and must be removed before water is used in aquariums or ponds. Chloramines do not harm people or pets, just fish. It is only when water interacts directly with the bloodstream–as in a fish’s gill structure–that chloramines must be removed.
Unlike free chlorine, chloramines do not dissipate from water when left uncovered. Two common methods used to remove chloramines are 1) adding specific chemicals or 2) using activated carbon filters. Both are commercially available. Specialty fish clubs and associations, publications for fish enthusiasts and pet stores can provide additional information and recommend water treatment.
Disposal of Pharmaceuticals
The best and most cost-effective way to ensure safe water at the tap is to keep our source waters clean. Consumers should never flush unused medications down a toilet or sink and are encouraged to see if their pharmacy accepts medications for disposal, or to contact their local health department for information about proper disposal of medications and other materials that could potentially harm the environment, such as cleaning products, pesticides, and automotive products.
News, events and how-to articles