Water Service Issues
Reporting a Problem
The City of Bowie strives to provide high quality water and sewer service to its customers. If you suspect there may be a problem with your water or sewer service, such as a water main break, low water pressure, brown water, or a sewer problem, please contact the City of Bowie immediately.
You may contact the Public Works Department from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at 301-809-2344. If there is a water emergency, call the Bowie Police Department Call Center at 240-544-5700 for assistance. If the emergency is deemed urgent, such as in the case of water main break, an "on-call" employee will be dispatched to the scene.
You can also report Non-urgent water service problems using our online City of Bowie Service Request System, which allows you to enter a service request ticket and routes the request to the proper person to respond on the next business day.
There are many things that can cause the water coming out of your tap to appear discolored.
- Water main break in your neighborhood - If a water main breaks, a large volume of water may be pouring out of a broken pipe. This can cause your water pressure to be low and it can cause any sediment in the lines to get stirred up and show up in your water.
- Fire or hydrant flushing - Similarly when a hydrant is opened near your home, either to provide water to a fire or when annual hydrant flushing is occurring, a large volume of water is being released through the hydrant, which is stirring up any sediment that has settled to the bottom of the line.
- Water distribution system problems - Aging cast iron distribution pipes in a water system can cause water to become discolored. Bowie's system, like others of its age and construction, has experienced this problem from time to time. Read more about the issue and City efforts to address it below.
In general, the sediment is made up of iron particles. It tends to discolor the water and can stain clothes that are washed in it, and may not look appealing, but it is safe to drink.
Aging Pipes and Water Discoloration
Bowie water comes from 5 different deep wells that draw water from 3 different underground aquifers. The quality of water in these aquifers is very good, although one of the aquifers is high in iron and manganese which is not uncommon for well water.
Once the water is pumped from our wells, the water is treated at our Water Plant prior to distribution. While one of the great benefits of well water is that it is clear of any harmful bacteria that can be found in surface water, one of the down sides is that it normally has higher iron and manganese content which make the water ‘hard’. Hard water is in no way hazardous, but it causes other problems like scale build up on pipes and it does not "wash" well. Therefore, one of the primary things our water plant does is soften the water, removing iron and manganese to appropriate levels consistent with federal drinking water quality standards.
Why is the Water Discolored?
Because of the nature of the cast iron pipes, the City of Bowie Water System is susceptible to a corrosive process that results in "tuberculation" in our pipes. Corrosion itself can result in some water discoloration since small particles of iron can be suspended in the water as it is carried to your house. Tuberculation complicates the problem as it creates rough coatings in our pipes that make it difficult (if not impossible) to wash out the pipes through flushing.
Typically, the iron particles sit on the bottom of the pipe and don’t get suspended into the water so your water is clear. But any actions that cause the water to become turbulent results in ‘mixing’ of the iron particles with the water that is delivered to your house, and causes the discoloration. The discoloration is especially noticeable when it is up against anything white, like a toilet bowl, laundry tub, etc.
Is it Safe to Drink?
The good news is that the discoloration you see is in fact caused by tiny iron particles, which are not harmful to human health. (Please rest assured that we have run several chemical tests to be absolutely certain that the discolored water contains nothing known to be harmful to human health.) The results of the testing are contained in the Annual Drinking Water Quality Report issued each by the City.
The bad news is that while it is not unhealthy, the iron can cause the water to be not completely clear. While no one wants any brown water, it becomes especially problematic when washing clothes. If you experience a brown water problem when washing clothes, please keep them wet and once the water has cleared, rewash them using a rust remover. Rust remover is available at no cost at City Hall.
How is the City Addressing the Problem?
The problem with the tuberculation of cast iron pipes is not at all unique to Bowie. This problem is a major water infrastructure problem in many areas throughout North America. There are various research efforts nationwide to determine if the problem can be solved through cleaning of pipes, lining of pipes, or if pipe replacement is needed.
The City carries out a flushing program that is an attempt to clear as much of the iron particles from the pipes as possible. One of the down sides of this program is that the flushing itself creates turbulence that lifts the iron into suspension and results in a day or so of discolored water. But ultimately it does improve the water quality. This flushing is scheduled on an annual basis.
Also short term, when there is an area of the City that has frequent, repeated water quality problems, the Utility Division will schedule a special flushing to try to address the localized problem. Each call of discolored water is taken very seriously. It is documented and researched. If the cause of the problem is not obvious (i.e. a water main break) or can't be determined, we will evaluate the need for localized flushing. Typically, this action is not required since the things that cause the turbulence are usually short in nature and the discoloration disappears in about 1 to 2 days.
The Public Works Department has completed an assessment of the City's Water Distribution System. It identified several problems with the aging system, which are detailed in a report to City Council on December 5, 2016. Staff's recommendation was that the City begin a program to replace, reline, or otherwise address problem pipes throughout the system.
In response to the recommendations, City Council adopted a Water Distribution System Recapitalization Project as part of the FY 2018 Budget and Capital Improvement Program for FY 2018- 2023. It is a 12-year plan to address the most serious pipe problems in the system. The cost of the plan is approximately $14 million, which will be paid for with a new fee for customers and with a loan.
For more information about hydrant flushing, water quality, or brown water, please contact the Public Works Department at 301-809-2344.