“Old DC Water Pipes – What are we really drinking?”

“Dear PoPville,

This is a bit long, but I’m reaching out to you about the water pipes in DC in hopes that a fellow Washingtonian might have successfully resolved a similar issue and could offer some guidance! As we hear from the water reports, DC Water has high standards for tap water, drinking straight out of the sink faucet is encouraged. DC Water provides annual water quality results, but data collection sample location is not clear. We stopped drinking the water because of the elevated iron levels. To “mitigate” the situation, DC Water flushes the main hydrant by our house multiple times a week to improve the iron (and chlorine levels), it doesn’t appear any solution such as replacement of corroded pipes (the culprit) will come in our lifetime. We don’t drink or cook with tap water and spend $300+ monthly on water delivery on top of the water consumption for laundry, showers etc. Below is the (long-ish) backstory, I hope to receive some much needed guidance!

We are residents of Ward 4 experiencing water quality issues since we moved in the house (May 2015). Everything started with a mild skin rash, which led us testing the water for lead and other harmful materials. As a result of the test, we replaced the main pipe all the way from the street to the house; the water quality did not drastically nor visually change, even though we went through a complete renovation and replaced all pipes in the entire house. However, we kept on encountering slimy and rusty residue in humidifiers, toilet bowl (shortly after cleaning), sinks, the washer, tile grout, a shade of orange on the marble tiles in the showers, and orange stains on our clothing. We then installed an additional water filter on the main of our house, which upon replacement was found slimy orange and filthy (image attached). We contacted DC Water, they immediately responded to our request and performed a water quality test at the hydrant. The results showed highly elevated iron level in the water (more than 6 times the norm) and the “solution” we were told is DC Water would flush the hydrant on our street weekly; additionally, we would need to flush all faucets/toilets for 5 min every time they come at the hydrant. This has been going on for about 6+ months, but the flushes will stop once it gets below freezing. In the meantime, we understood that the issue derives from the age of the water pipes in DC, especially in our neighborhood, and the respective corrosion. Shockingly, only 1% of the budget is allotted for pipe replacement projects in DC, even though we, as consumers, contribute every month for the pipe replacement. It seems that only one or two short streets a year are the lucky recipients of new pipes (of course in more affluent neighborhoods) and when this project will stretch to our ward remains a mystery (DC water did not provide a clear response).

Since this issue was flagged to DC Water, we have spoken with our neighbors, who also confirm they experience the same issues. Nobody drinks or cooks with the water and each person has signed up for an expensive water delivery service or sources their own drinking/cooking water, and individually home flush every time DC Water flushes the hydrant. It’s unclear if the water is safe to drink and cook with – DC Water only said the level is above normal. It seems these flushes not only waste a precious resource but are now required at an increased frequency as they are not effective in reaching the safe levels of iron in water.

We’ve engaged our Council Member, but they are not able to help beyond lobbying for an increased share of resources for pipe replacement, this again could take decades. DC Water has basically stopped communicating with us on this issue, with the exception of sharing the iron levels after every flush.

Has anyone faced and resolved a similar situation? Any guidance?

Many thanks in advance!”

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