Don't Drink the Water

No, I'm just exagerating. But maybe I will stock up on bottled water next week...

In the month of March, 2004 as in March of 2003, OWASA will again use chlorine instead of chloramines for disinfection. The purpose of this change, which occurs annually, is to help ensure a high level of disinfection in the community’s network of water mains.

North Carolina standards require OWASA, and other utilities that normally use chloramines for disinfection, to instead use chlorine for one month each year. For example, the Cities of Raleigh and Durham and Towns of Cary and Apex will also use chlorine for disinfection in March instead of chloramines.- OWASA Press Release

I have heard (and observed) that the tap water is pretty "hard" in my neighborhood. You can smell the chlorine when you turn on the shower, I even feel it drying out my skin. Is this really worse in Northside than other neighborhoods? One friend's theory had to do with proximity of the plant, but then folks in Carrboro would have it even worse.



I forwarded these concerns to OWASA staff & here's what I got back. Let me know if you have any other questions - Mark

The mineral “hardness” of OWASA water is very low—only about 2 grains per gallon. This means that people in our community do not need to use water softeners for washing clothes—at least not because of the tap water.

The chlorine smell of our water is more noticeable in March because we use diluted sodium hypochlorite (bleach) instead of the chlorine + ammonia compound called chloramines that we use in the other months.

The chlorine odor is more noticeable in March but (and this may surprise you) the level of what a chemist would call “total chlorine” is lower in March.

When we use chlorine bleach in March, the chlorine level is between 0.2 and 2 parts per million (milligrams per liter).

In months other than March, “total chlorine” is usually from 3 to 3.5 parts per million (milligrams per liter) at sampling locations across our system. (The chlorine limit when we use chloramines is 4 parts per million.)

Without going into a detailed technical explanation, the chlorine in bleach is more volatile—it dissipates out of water in a few hours-- and the chlorine in the chloramines used by OWASA is more chemically stable.

To answer the question about water in different areas, the chlorine in water in our mains across the community is normally in the 3 to 3.5 ppm range as noted above.

Water temperature is also a factor in odor at the tap—chlorine escapes more quickly from warm or hot water. It's not surprising that you notice it more in hot water from a showerhead.

Mark, I live in the Northwoods V subdivision. First, please let me state that I am in NO WAY complaining about OWASA. I guess being a country girl who grew up on well water, I was surprised by the taste of the city water when I first moved to Chapel Hill/Carrboro 10 years ago. In my opinion (and we all know what everyone thinks about opinions) the water smells like chlorine.

Some background...I have glass shower doors. We keep our shower very clean. After a few years, I got tired of looking thru the fogged glass from the hard water deposits, so I installed new ones (that was in November '03) and the water deposits are already starting back up, and I have tried using every non-abrasive, natural way to keep them clean. Ok, enough of my whining...

I called in a water softening company to give me a bid (a total waste of my time) and the rep did a water test on my tap water and in his words "the chlorine levels were lethal" <--I don't hold much stock in that statement. So me, always looking for a second and third opinion got a pool test kit (I used to be a certified pool operator many many years ago) and tested it myself and the chlorine levels where as high as the pink/magenta could get.

I've heard thru the rumour mill that if you live close to a treatment plant that the chlorine doesnt have time to evaporate out of the water and that's why it's so high. I never bothered to inquire about it thru OWASA because I just figured if its like that in my home, it's probably the same all over...

Anyway, I appreciate any knowledge you can pass my way. Again, no complaints. This all started because I want clean looking shower doors (which probably isnt even chlorine related I'm guessing).

Melanie, my post is heavy on sarcasm when I describe it as chunky style. As for my pipes my home is only 7 years old. To be more specific of the water analysis, I have a pool testing kit, and yes, the chlorine level was as high as it would go. I am sure OWASA has great ratings, I read recently they were voted the best tasting water <--I just don't get that. I'll stick with the bottled water for consumption and continue to purchase new glass shower doors every few years.


Where do you live? I want to look into these questions.



Wow. No way should the chlorine level be that high! I'd call OWASA. I'd also e-mail Mark. Can't hurt to have him looking into it as well.

Hey, Mark--there's a creek behind my house that OWASA built a causeway across seven years ago (John's Branch.) Contractor didn't follow the plans--only put in one big metal pipe, not the two called for. Thing has needed re-building almost annually (washes out). I'm tired of bringing it to OWASA'S attention--can you do anything about THAT? The amount of sediment, non-native rock, Chapel Hill gravel going into the creek is pretty impressive--not to MENTION the cost of re-building/repairing the stupid thing.

E-mail me if you want details--I tilt at this windmill every other year or so--never goes anywhere. Isn't even on OUR property--but I love my litle creek.


Trish---I wouldn't necessarily put a great deal of trust in an anlysis of water quality done by SOMEONE SELLING WATER PURIFIERS. SLIGHT conflict of interest there. As to "chunky"--how old are your pipes? I've never had "chunky" water come out of my TAP--but I did have it come out fo the water dispenser on my fridge after it had been unused for awhile.

An independant water quality company gave Owasa quite a high rating awhile back...can't remember where I read that...


You may be on to something Ruby--I know the water seemed to smell more of chlorine when we lived on West Main in Carrboro than it did in our current home in CH. I say "did" instead of "does"--because now, of course, they use chloramine. I wonder how many people will actually notice? Other than FISH owners, of course.


I don't drink the water because dope smokers are in charge.

I live near Chapel Hill North and our water not only smells of chlorine's "chunky style" as in plankton floating around in it (ok the chunky comment is a mild exageration). We've used a bottled water service for years for drinking. Recently we had our glass shower doors replaced becauce the hard water deposits after 7 years became gross looking.

I did have a soft water company come out to give us an estimate of our water and the cost of installing a water purification system(the cost scared the crap out of me and he said our chlorine level was that of a commercial swimming pool).

What's up with that?

Even though the water taste funky it's nice to see a local organization get positive national attention.

OWASA honored for water treatment

Now, when will OWASA prod Carrboro and Chapel Hill to put in a reasonable number of public drinking fountains? I'm sure they could round up a few local kudos for that effort.

I honestly cannot recall the last time I actually saw a public drinking fountain...

As hot as it gets here in the summer, I think big time kudos would be in order. There's lots of thirsty folks I see uptown who don't always have $2 for bottled Dasani.

Also, if I could be assured that it wouldn't waste any water, I'd love to see a public "decorative" fountain somewhere in town. Ya know, the "throw coins in" kind of fountain & donate all the change to worthy local causes...

Just wishful thinking...

Gosh Trish, that is soooooooooooooo unAmerican of you. Would you deprive the hard working bottled water makers out of their $1.99 of profit for that $2.00 bottle of water?

I love the idea of fountains for drinking. People need to drink more water anyways.

Actually, no I wouldn't deprive the bottled water makers out of their profit because I alone buy a LOT of bottled water ;-)

I love the ideas of drinking fountains too. But I am sure there would be some lovely fee involved.

Like those old restrooms where you had to put a nickel in the lock to open the door!

I heard that OWASA was looking at proposals to encourage drinking tap water over bottled water - seems like putting up public fountains would be a fantastic first step.

Yes, the OWASA Board was presented with a petition urging us to promote the use of local water and help cut down on the waste from bottled water consumption.

I think water fountains is a great idea and will certainly make sure that idea is considered during our discussions on this issue.

This is a great idea.

Easy Trivia: I can think of at least one public fountain in a very conspicuous location. It sits in the place of an altar in North Carolina's tribute to a Masonic Lodge.


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