Brown Water: A Nuisance or Problem?

Experts say it’s not a health issue, but does pose aesthetic consequences

By Chloe Wegner, The Voice News - September 28, 2017

Share this story

Courtesy photo

Minerals, iron and manganese in tap water turn an orange/brown color when they are  exposed to oxygen, causing the brown water color many residents have complained about recently. Area towns work to combat the issue through treatment plants, but home owners can also take extra measures of filtration to combat the “aesthetic” problem.


VOICE NEWS REGION – Some residents in the Hickman and Sterling areas have filed complaints recently of brown water coming out of the faucets in their homes.


The subject has been brought up at town council meetings in each community and leaders of both towns want residents to know each of their towns takes the issue seriously.


“First, please know your water is safe to drink and is in compliance with all regulations,” said Hickman mayor Doug Hanson. “The City of Hickman takes all water testing very seriously to ensure the water is safe for our customers and our families.”


Added Greg Peterson, chairman of the Village of Sterling Board of Supervisors, “It is of course a real issue and the brown color causes people to be concerned, but the water is perfectly safe.”


What causes brown water?

Brown water is caused by the presence of iron and manganese.


“The iron that we find in the soil is called Fe and is like metal, like a rusty nail,” said Jack Lorenzen, the owner of Quality Water Services of Roca. “Manganese, you find it as black. It will show up on clothes as little black greasy spots or it will show up in the toilet bowl, and it is kind of a greasy substance. It is very common and is often found at the same time that you find iron. It is something that is very naturally supplied in water. It can also sometimes cause an odor in the water. But they are real common.”


These minerals naturally occur in tap water and are more prevalent in deeper wells, because of longer exposure to rock.


Through water treatment facilities, the amount of these minerals in city water is greatly reduced.


Nonetheless, there are always small traces left in the water supply, which may discolor the tap water. Water that contains iron and manganese initially shows clear. However, when it is exposed to oxygen, these minerals appear as orange-brown or black particles, causing the discolored water.


“It is dissolved in the water and you can’t see it. The only time you can see it is after it sits for a while and comes into contact with air or oxygen and it oxidizes and turns from what we call Fe ferrous iron to iron that is oxidized so then you can see it,” said Lorenzen, who has treated water for 53 years, said. “It is a universal problem, all across the state.”


Are these minerals safe?


These minerals pose no safety risks in the homes of rural residents and city residents.

“Iron and manganese are not health concerns in drinking water,” Hanson said. “However, they are a nuisance.”


Brown water is a concern, however, it falls into the category of lesser issues.


 “There are two standards for drinking water,” Lorenzen said. “One is what’s referred to as primary standards, those are the ones that are health issues. Then there are ones that are called secondary and iron comes under secondary. We call it the scourge of the homemaker. It turns everything rusty, it ruins clothes, it does all kinds of things. But it is not a health hazard, it is an aesthetic problem.”


What can be done about brown water?


Peterson recommended installing a water filtration system within the home, if possible, to further filter the minerals past what Sterling already is doing.


“Through constant water chlorination it eliminates any health hazard to the community,” Peterson said.


There are also several practices already in place by the City of Hickman and other rural towns.


In 2011, Hickman constructed a new water treatment facility for $1.23 million.

Water from both shallow and deep wells are mixed together to decrease the amount of unpleasant minerals from each.


Chlorine is regulated and added to city drinking water, causing iron and manganese to harden into solids, which are then filtered out.


“Municipal water supplies are highly regulated by DHHS and water reporting is required monthly, with more comprehensive reporting completed quarterly and every six years,” Hanson explained.


Also, the City of Hickman flushes water lines on a regular schedule to remove iron and manganese buildup.


Along with such practices as using the proper filtration systems and other city practices, Lorenzen, who is certified in the testing and treatment of water, suggested one last way to fix brown water issues.


“There is a lot of ways to deal with it,” Lorenzen said. “The best way, not just because you are talking to me, is to talk with professionals like myself. You want to find someone that knows what they are doing. You don’t want to just throw a solution at a problem. You want to know what you are dealing with and what’s in the water.”


With these safety measures, incidents are sparse. However, brown water does still occur on rare occasions and when it does residents are quick to complain.


“Discoloration can still take place within the water infrastructure,” Hanson said. “Again, iron and manganese are not health concerns. The City strives to ensure the best possible water quality, which requires the use of deep municipal wells and the associated iron and manganese. If you witness discolored tap water, please immediately contact the City of Hickman at 402-792-2212 or after hours at 402-432-1513 so the issue can be alleviated.”





The Voice News  |  114 Locust Street, Suite B  |  P.O. Box 148  |  Hickman, NE 68372  |  402-792-2255