Emergency Drinking Water

Where does our water come from?

Columbia’s water comes from the Broad River Diversion Canal and Lake Murray. The water is treated at one of two water treatment plants and delivered to your house via underground pipes.

What has Columbia Water done to prepare for emergencies?

Emergency preparedness has always been a major concern for Columbia Water, but even more so since September 11, 2001. Columbia Water has taken steps to ensure that its readiness program meets industry standards and the guidelines of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Homeland Security Department. In addition, Columbia Water has conducted a comprehensive review of its facilities and safety and security procedures to ensure it is able to respond to emergencies.

Columbia Water has a plan, but I still want to store my own water. Should I do that and how?

Yes, absolutely, Columbia Water recommends that you store water to use in the event of an emergency. The following procedure is recommended by the EPA, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency):

  1. Plan for up to one gallon of water per person per day for drinking and food preparation.
  2. Store tap water in clean, non-corrosive containers.
    Two-liter plastic soft drink bottles with screw caps are perfect for water storage. They are tough and made of food-grade plastic. Do not use plastic milk containers for long term storage because they will split easily over time due to “environmentally friendly” biodegradable plastic.
  3. Before storing the water, treat it with a preservative such as chlorine bleach to prevent growth of bacteria.Use household bleach that contains 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite but no other products, such as soap or fragrance. The label may say “Not For Personal Use” but it is safe to use if the only active ingredient is sodium hypochlorite, and you use only the following small amounts:
    • Available Chlorine: 5.25 %
    • Drops per 2 Liter Bottle: 4 drops
    • Drops per Gallon: 8-10 drops
    • Equivalent Amount per Gallon: One-half of 1/8 teaspoon
  4. Seal the bottles tightly, label them, and store in a cool dark place.
  5. The maximum shelf life if disinfected in this manner is about six months.

Where can I get more information?

The following agencies can supply you with more detailed information about all types of provisions and preparations needed to safeguard your family during an emergency, and also how to obtain and purify water of questionable origin:

Water Quality

Does Columbia Water fluoridate its water?

Yes. Columbia Water fluoridates its water in accordance with S.C. DHEC and U.S. EPA recommendations. Current levels of fluoridation can always be found in the City’s most recent Consumer Confidence Report in English and español. For details on fluoridation in South Carolina, see S.C. DHEC’s Fluoridation: Nature’s Way to Prevent Tooth Decay.

Why is fluoride added to the water? Is it safe?

Columbia Water fluoridates the water in all of its treatment facilities to provide an optimal level of fluoride for protection against tooth decay. Fluoride is provided at a level just under the current EPA recommended minimum of 0.7 milligrams per liter.

Why is my drinking water milky, cloudy, or white?

Cloudy water is usually caused by tiny air bubbles in the water similar to gas bubbles in carbonated drinks. This usually happens during winter months when air gets mixed into the cold water and then the water is warmed as it sits in household plumbing or hot water heaters. Cold water can hold more air than warm water. When the warmed water is released from a faucet into a glass, the air bubbles rise to the top and the water clears. There is no health risk associated with air in water.

Air can also occur in water after routine repairs to waterlines. If the air does not clear up or if it seems excessive, contact Columbia Water at +1 803-545-3300.

What is the chlorine taste or odor in my water?

Columbia Water is required by law to provide disinfectant (chlorine) residuals to the taps of our customers to protect the water from harmful bacteria. This may mean that you encounter chlorine-type tastes and odors from time to time. If you find these objectionable, fill a container with water and store it in the refrigerator for drinking. Leave the cap slightly loose and most of the chlorine smell should dissipate.

You can also use a hand-held pitcher with an activated carbon filter to remove chlorine, or install a point-of-use water treatment device on a faucet for your cooking and drinking water. Be certain that the device has been tested by an independent organization for aesthetic (non-health) use. ANSI/NSF Standard 42 establishes minimum requirements for materials, design and construction, and performance of drinking water devices that reduce specific aesthetic-related contaminants in public or private water supplies. These products usually contain activated carbon that can remove many chemicals that affect taste and odor, including chlorine.

Point of use devices contain filter cartridges that must be changed out periodically. Be sure to follow manufacturer’s recommendations to replace the cartridges. If you plan to store water from these devices, treat the water as a food product, and use clean, airtight containers and refrigerate, as the water is no longer protected from bacteriological contamination. For more information about filters, see the Home Filtration section of this FAQ.

I have a pond or aquarium. What should I know about how Columbia Water treats its water?

Columbia Water began using chloramine in addition to chlorine as a disinfectant at its Columbia Canal Water Treatment Plant in the mid 1960’s and at its Lake Murray Water Treatment Plant in 1982. Chloramine is a compound composed of chorine and ammonia. It is slightly weaker than chlorine, but lasts longer in the distribution system.

Although chloramine helps to make your water safe to drink, it is toxic to aquatic organisms and must be removed from tap water prior to use in an aquarium or pond. Chloramine, like chlorine, will kill both salt and fresh water fish and other aquatic life, including Koi fish, lobster, shrimp, frogs, turtles, snails, clams and live coral.

A water-conditioning agent specifically designed to remove chloramine, or an activated carbon filter, must be used according to product instructions. If you are already using one of these products to remove chlorine, it is possible that the same product may also remove chloramine. However, you must read the product label to be sure. Chlorine removal agents that are not specifically designed to also remove chloramine could leave excess ammonia in the water. Too much ammonia could also harm fish. Pet stores and other retail outlets have sold chloramine removal products for years and have generally recommended their use. Your pet supplier should be able to provide any further guidance you may need. Be sure to give the treatment method of your choice the appropriate time to work before you add fish or other aquatic life to the water.

Why is my water discolored (yellow, red, or brown)?

Yellow, rusty, or brownish colored water is usually due to flow changes in the system that stir up iron and manganese-containing sediments. There are no health-related limits for iron or manganese in drinking water. These minerals, however, can result in staining of white laundry. Items stained by washing in discolored water should not be bleached (this will set the color into the fabric). They should be washed again in clear water. Using a laundry cleaner specifically manufactured for iron removal may be helpful as well. These products are available at most laundry product retailers.

Discolored water can also be the result of in-house plumbing problems, such as the attachment of dissimilar metals like copper and galvanized pipes, or to cracked glass liners in hot water tanks. In general, these in-house discolored water problems will be characterized by a spurt of discolored water when the water is first turned on or will be limited to the hot water.

Rusty water can also occur in the system if there is a change or increase in water flow caused by water main breaks, valve operation, or fire hydrant activation. These activities dislodge small particles of rust and stir up sediments in pipes. It is a temporary condition and should clear up in a couple of hours. If possible, avoid dishwashing or laundry until the condition clears up.

If you experience ongoing discolored water for which you can find no in-house remedy, call the Columbia Water at +1 803-545-3300.

What would cause a musty, moldy, or earthy taste or odor in the water?

Earthy/musty tastes and odors that occur in drinking water can be related to several factors. These taste and odor causing substances can be very difficult to detect at the treatment facility. There are two common causes of a musty, moldy, or earthy taste or odor in the water: bacteria growing in your drain, or certain types of organisms growing in Columbia Water’s water supply.

By far, the most common cause of this type of problem is the drain. Over time organic matter (such as hair, soap, and food waste) can accumulate on the walls of the drain. Bacteria can grow on these organic deposits. As the bacteria grow and multiply, they produce gases that can smell musty or moldy. These gases accumulate in the drain until the water is turned on. As the water runs down the drain, the gases are expelled into the air around the sink. It is natural to assume the bad odor is coming from the water because the smell is noticeable only when the water is on. However there is nothing wrong with the water, but the drain may need to be disinfected.

The other cause of this type of taste or odor in the water is much less common and results from certain types of algae, fungi, and bacteria growing in the water supply reservoirs. As these organisms grow and multiply, they excrete small amounts of harmless chemicals into the water that cause a musty, moldy, or earthy taste and odor. The two most common chemicals are geosmin and methylisoborneal (MIB). Although these chemicals are harmless, the human senses of taste and smell are extremely sensitive to them and can detect them in the water at concentrations as low as 5 parts per trillion (nanograms per liter). Columbia Water manages and monitors the water in its reservoirs carefully to prevent these organisms from growing to levels that affect the taste and odor of the water, but sometimes Mother Nature wins. If an algal bloom does occur in a Columbia Water reservoir, it can take several weeks to eradicate the bloom. At the treatment plant, activated carbon can be added once the problem is discovered.

Similar “stale” tastes and odors may also occur in distribution lines related to low flow situations. The remedy in this case usually involves flushing out of the affected lines by Columbia Water crews. Also, anytime plumbing has been unused for a long time, the water can develop an unpleasant taste, so faucets should be run a short time to bring in fresh water. There are no adverse health effects associated with earthy/musty taste and odor substances.

I'm getting pink or black residues on surfaces in contact with water. Why?

Such residues may occur in showers, toilet bowls or tanks, pet bowls, bath tub toys, coffee reservoirs, cold air humidifiers-on any surface that stays moist and is not cleaned thoroughly and regularly. These are generally the result of biological growth-molds, fungus, bacteria or algae that have originated from the air or the surfaces themselves. These microbes grow well in moist areas and the water that remains in these areas has typically lost its chlorine (disinfectant) through natural reaction or volatilization. The simple remedy is to keep such areas dry and to clean them regularly with a disinfectant solution.

I see white or black particles in the water. What causes this?

These can occur as a result of degradation of hot water tank dip tubes (white) or degradation of faucet gaskets, supply tubing or pipe coatings (black). If the particles are occurring due to these causes, some basic trouble-shooting may help isolate the problem: determine whether the problem occurs only in hot water piping or certain faucets.

My water is cloudy and/or tastes bad. Who should I contact?

Contact Columbia Water at +1 803-545-3300 to report concerns about the taste, smell, or appearance of your water. Hydrant flushing may be required to clear lines of cloudy water due to construction or maintenance of water mains.

Is my water safe? Do I need to boil my water?

Drinking water as provided by public water suppliers is clarified and disinfected. It is not sterile, however. Those with severely compromised immune systems-advanced AIDS, organ transplant patients, cancer patients on chemotherapy, or those with other conditions that greatly impair the natural immune response may wish to take special precautions regarding the water they consume, such as boiling the water prior to use. To completely eliminate the possibility of any microbial exposure from water, bring water to a full rolling boil for one minute, allow it to cool, and store it in clean, refrigerated conditions. Persons with these concerns are encouraged to seek advice from their physicians.

In the event of a major interruption in water service, such as a water main break, customers may be advised to boil their water. This can happen even in properly treated public water supplies like Columbia Water’s. When water service is interrupted and mains are depressurized, there is an increased risk that substances might be drawn into mains through seepage or cross-connections. As a result, in larger outages, systems are required to issue Boil Water Advisories until bacteriological sampling shows that the water has not been contaminated. Such sampling usually takes 24 to 48 hours to be completed once water service is restored. Columbia Water’s monitoring of the water in such depressurization instances has consistently shown that the water has not been contaminated.

My family has been sick. How can I be sure my water is not the cause?

With increased public awareness on issues related to health and infectious diseases, Columbia Water is occasionally asked whether our water could be the cause of illness. This is highly unlikely, since Columbia Water provides water that is treated to high quality standards, uses utmost care in maintaining its distribution system, and maintains adequate chlorine residuals throughout the distribution system. In response to such inquiries, however, Columbia Water schedules on-site water testing for bacteria and chlorine (disinfectant) residuals, as well as other basic water quality parameters if the customer so desires. Call Columbia Water at +1 803-545-3300 to schedule an on-site analysis.

I have low water pressure in my home. Who should I contact?

If you have had discolored water lately, or experienced a sudden loss of pressure in one particular sink or shower, you can check for blockages by removing the aerator and rinsing it to remove debris.

If you have experienced a drop in pressure throughout your home, it could be caused by a water leak or water main break in your area. Please contact Columbia Water at Contact Columbia Water at +1 (803) 545-3300.

What is the range of water pressure in Columbia Water's system?

The range of water pressure is between 40 and 120 psi (pounds per square inch).

Home Water Filtration

Do I need a water filter?

Columbia Water’s tap water is safe. Some filters may improve the taste of the water, but they are not needed to make the water safe to drink. To find out about water quality, read Columbia Water’s annual Consumer Confidence Report in English and español.

How do I avoid water filter fraud?

Columbia Water’s water quality is often a target for unscrupulous businesses. Columbia Water’s water is excellent and meets or exceeds all Federal and State standards designed to protect consumers against disease causing bacteria and other harmful substances. However, private water firms may approach you with the claim that their water treatment devices can improve the quality and safety of your water.

Columbia Water urges our customers to be cautious of unnecessary water treatment systems. Please ensure that you have a thorough understanding of what a water purification product can and cannot do to enhance your current water quality. Some companies may use deceptive sales techniques to mislead you into purchasing unnecessary home treatment systems. Please remember that these businesses are not endorsed or affiliated with Columbia Water. To ensure the accuracy of water testing, you should request the use of credible laboratories that employ testing techniques certified by the Environmental Protection Agency. If you choose to purchase a water treatment device, please be sure that it is third-party certified by NSF International or the Water Quality Association (WQA). Check to see that the system of your choice is specifically certified to target the contaminants you wish to reduce.

Proceed cautiously if a salesperson or telemarketer suggests any of the following:

  • The water in your area is contaminated. Some unscrupulous dealers or salespeople may suggest that water in your area contains dangerous impurities such as lead or pesticides. If you have any reason to suspect that your local water supply is dangerous, first call the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe drinking water hotline at 1 800 426 4791.
  • Their water-filtration products are certified or recommended by the US government. The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) is the provider of certification of water treatment systems.
  • An offer for an in-home test to check the safety of your water. In-home water tests can often be used by con artists to create a false impression that you must purchase a water filter to protect your and your family’s health.
  • Their company’s water filter doesn’t require maintenance. All water filtration devices require some form of maintenance, although it may be as simple as an occasional filter change.
  • Their water filters remove all known contaminants. No water purification device can take out every contaminant known to man.
  • You have won a prize but you have not entered any contest. Some sellers will suggest that you have won a free gift or a prize, and that you must buy a water filter in order to be eligible to redeem the prize. After inquiring about your prize, you may find that the water filtration device costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, while the prize you “won” may be worth very little.

What if I have been the victim of a water filter scam?

If you are the victim of a water-filter scam, you may contact:

Water Hardness

Somebody left bottles at my house as part of a Community Water Test. Does Columbia Water do this?

No. This is a private company that sells water-softening units. Columbia Water will test your tap water if you are experiencing a problem, but only at your request. Contact Customer Care at +1 803-545-3300.

My neighbor had this test done and was told that their water was alkaline. Is this true?

Only if compared to water that is acidic and very soft. The pH (acid/alkaline level) of tap water leaving the treatment plants is about 8.0, which is close to neutral. Completely neutral water is 7.0 on a scale of 0 to 14. Water less than 7 is considered acidic. Columbia Water’s water is discharged slightly alkaline to prevent corrosion of water pipes and to help maintain adequate disinfection of the water, which is more effective at a higher pH.

Does Columbia Water have 'hard' water? And what does that mean?

“Hard” refers to a measure of difficulty – how hard it is to form lather and suds – and to the hard mineral deposit left on fixtures. “Soft” water uses less soap and detergent to form lather and suds, and can make clothing and skin feel softer.

What are 'grains of hardness'?

Water hardness is expressed in one of two units of measurement. The first unit is parts per million (ppm) and the second expression of hardness is grains per gallon (gpg). A gpg equals about 17 ppm.

I have heard that Columbia Water has a hardness of 1-2 gpg. Is that considered 'hard' or 'soft' water?

It depends on who you ask. The US Geological Survey established levels of hardness in 1962. These classifications are given below.

Soft

  • 0-60 parts per million
  • 0-3.5 grains per gallon

Moderately Soft

  • 61-120 parts per million
  • 3.5-7.0 grains per gallon

Moderately Hard

  • 121-180 parts per million
  • 7.0-10.5 grains per gallon

Very Hard

  • 181+ parts per million
  • 10.5+ grains per gallon

Since Columbia Water’s water is 1-2 gpg, it is generally referred to as moderately soft. Private organizations such as the Water Quality Association have changed the government classifications so that only water below 1.0 gpg is considered soft, and the level from 1.0 to 3.5 is called slightly hard. WQA is a self-monitoring trade association of the home and commercial water treatment industry.

What causes water hardness? Should I be concerned about some kind of contamination?

No. The level of hardness is determined mainly by the amount of two minerals, calcium and magnesium. From a health standpoint, these minerals have no adverse effects and are, in fact, essential daily nutrients. In addition, water contains trace amounts of vital minerals that are found only in minute quantities in the human body. Researchers have found that these tiny amounts can have a beneficial effect on human health.

Are there advantages to having extremely soft water?

Very soft water won’t leave mineral deposits on pans or mineral scale buildup in hot water heaters. You will use less of household cleaning products like detergents, and less of personal hygiene products like shampoo. You may get longer life from appliances like dishwashers and washing machines.

What are the disadvantages of water softening?

Softening units remove calcium and magnesium minerals and replace them with sodium. For each gpg of hardness removed, 7.5 milligrams of sodium are added to each quart of water, a possible concern to those on low sodium diets. Softened water is also not recommended for watering plants due to its sodium content.

Softened water increases the potential for leaching metal from pipes, solder and plumbing fixtures. Increased levels of copper, lead, zinc and cadmium are found in soft water, especially when it stands overnight in the plumbing system. These levels can exceed EPA primary drinking water standards, especially for brass fixtures and faucets. When the water from Columbia’s sources is treated, lime is added to increase hardness and adjust pH, which helps prevent this type of leaching. In addition, a corrosion inhibitor is added to aid in the prevention of heavy metal leaching.

Why would I need to soften City water if our water is already moderately soft?

As the home water treatment industry has grown in the US, the concept of water softening has often been misconstrued as a purifying and cleansing process. This is due largely to exaggerated advertising and to consumer misconceptions about water treatment. In reality, hardness minerals can be a nuisance at high levels, but they are not a threat to health.

If you have questions about the quality of your drinking water, contact Columbia Water at (803) 545 3300. You may also view the latest Consumer Confidence Report in English and español for hardness levels. For additional information, visit EPA’s Drinking Water Website.