Water safety after water main break?

On Monday morning utility crews on my road ruptured a water main. In the ensuing four days, my water has vacillated from no water pressure, to brown frothy water, to cloudy water. The water district says that as of mid-morning today (day four) all repairs have been finished and the water lines to each affected house flushed. I ran all my faucets for about ten minutes as instructed.

However, the water still looks a little cloudy, even after sitting for about 30 minutes, so I don’t think it’s air bubbles.

Is there some sort of rule of thumb here? I’ve been buying gallons of water for myself and the dogs for drinking. The water company says the water should be fine and they can’t get out to my house again until Monday.

You could boil the tap water for a while. We had a water main break this winter and our water was off for awhile (only about 20 hours by some miracle). When the break was repaired and we got the water back, it looked fine but the city advised us to boil it until they finished testing it, which took three or four days. I don’t know if the water was actually unsafe until then or if they were erring on the side of caution.

I thought of that - but they haven’t issued any sort of advisory and for now it just seems easier to buy gallons of water. Three or four days, huh? Hmmmph.

It’s not like the cloudiness is raw sewage from an infection disease ward. Unless you’re in a very unusual location, at worst it’s just some dirt from the hole, but more likely just some rust and stuff that was already inside the pipe and got stirred up a bit by the repairs.

I mean, I’d probably not give it to a newborn, or patient on immunosuppresive drugs, but if it was a pain in the butt to get jugs of water, I’d be OK drinking it myself.

I believe the cloudy stuff (which isn’t just gas bubbles…) is used to ensure the new corrosion layer on the pipes forms in a slightly alkali environment.
This forms a water tight layer that can then accept more carbonates in a layer over it, and greatly reduce the rate of metal dissolving into the water.

Sorry if I sound dense - so what, exactly would they be adding to the water?

I’m not really that paranoid about it. The dogs have been drinking tap water this morning, and I’m perfectly healthy - just have a slight “yuck” reaction to non-clear water. Also and more importantly, my fish tank is slightly overdue for a partial water change and I don’t want to kill my fish. I’ll probably get some buckets of water from a neighbor for the fish tank.

The county apparently offers water testing for $15 to check for e coli and other bacteria. A local water-testing lab does the same test, or for about $500 will give me a very detailed analysis. Wish I could afford that!

ETA, missed Isilder’s edit. Thank you for the clarification.

Just because the city never said it could be bad to drink, why chance it? If it were me I’d boil or buy bottled water until it cleared up. I would also run ALL of my faucets wide open for more than 10 minutes.

Oh for sure. And I’ve run it for way longer than 10 minutes at this point…in fact I ran the hot water all the way to cold to drain out the water heater.

The county doesn’t do water testing on Fridays but they will on Monday. I’m not drinking it until I have them test it for bacteria levels.

It is very difficult to assess the true health risk associated with water main breaks and repairs. This is due to a variety of factors, including variations in repair/disinfection procedures, unequal and changing distribution of water to service lines downstream of the break, and the unpredictable nature of water consumption. The best study we have is by Nygard et al.. They found that there is an increased risk of GI illness after a main break. The correlation was low, but statistically significant.

The utility is required to do a certain number of E. coli tests in the distribution system every month. Most utilities will also do extra testing at the site of any major repairs. This information is available to you as a consumer, but you may have to be persistent to get access to it. Those tests take 24 hours to complete, so that is why boil advisories often last for a day or two. Not because the water is dangerous for that long, but because it takes that long to prove it is safe.

As far as chemicals, it is near impossible to say what they might have added. Repair protocols vary widely. It is best practice to add higher levels of disinfectants (chlorine or monochloramine, for example) after a repair to reduce any contamination introduced into the pipes. The linemen will flush the system, but there could still be higher levels of disinfectants for a little while, especially if there are any dead-end pipes in the area. It’s probably best to not use this water for your fish.

For you and your dogs, no one will be able to give you the definitive answer you want, as the data just doesn’t exist. Personally, I would check the water daily until it is clear, which should happen fairly quickly (2-3 days). If it doesn’t clear up in that timeframe, call the utility. Once it’s clear, I would trust it to drink (assuming no further boil advisories). If you are still nervous, use a water filter.

Thanks Red Stilettos, I am learning a lot about something I always took for granted! After reading what you wrote, I called the water department and they said I can come pick up copies of the latest water quality reports any time, which I will do. They also have it online, although this from 2013.

I just ran the hot water again until it ran cold, and it’s definitely less cloudy now. I just got about eight gallons of water from a neighbor whose water supply wasn’t affected, for my fish. And I have enough gallons of bottled water to get me & the dogs through the weekend.* I normally use a Brita filter for my drinking/coffee water anyway but will stick with the bottled until it runs 100% clear.

*I’m actually not that worried about the dogs. They lick their butts, drink water from the goose-poop contaminated lake, drink out of the toilet, etc.