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Question DetailsAsked on 4/10/2017

Intermittent low water pressure, all faucets, h and c. Occ spurting, grey water, smelly water, small black particl

Well from 1950's .House is a ranch. High ground water table. Huge sump in basement. Replaced sump Pump in November. Always been a lot of rust in water Replaced hot water heater in December. Bleached well last week l. Having to replace whole house filter approximately once a month now, rather than every six months. Some things I read online blame new hot water heater annode reacting to maganese in water. In house pump is old but working, consist. reading at 50% pressure on gauge. Is this a leak in well, a part in well? Some things suggested additional water storage tank needed. We did add a dishwasher when we moved in about a year ago. Who can tell if it is water heater or well? How much should service call be? What are typical well repair prices? (Well head has permanent cap. Had to bleach it using 1 inch hole on side.)

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2 Answers



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Answered 3 years ago by Member Services


Lot of possibilities - surface water infiltration into well, rusted through well casing allowing soil into the well, seriously anaerobic well water due to contaminated groundwater, seriously corroded piping, deteriorated surge/air tank or storage tank, among a few others.

First thing - if it smells bad or is gray - do not drink or cook or brush teeth with it, at least not till it is tested for compliance with the basic EPA drinking water standard + fecal coliform text - typically about $15-25 for a DIY test kit at box stores or Amazon (go with a brand name like First Alert) to see if it looks like you may have a problem (mostly YES/NO, not quantataative test reuslts from the "shake and back" test kits). $150-200 at local water testing lab for a definitive, quantative basic household water quality test. And do not let it get into eyes or nose or ears or mouth if possible when showering until test shows it is not hazardous.

You did not say what kind of smell - if sulferous, could be anaerobic iron or manganese algae, which a water treatment system can commonly solve. If only on hot water, could be going sulferous in the water heater - a non-manganese anode can commonly solve this.

My gut feeling with black flakes and grey water and smelly - assuming this was BEFORE you shocked the well with chlorine (which would commonly free up some gunk that would need flushing out and might initially have those characteristics), is you are either getting surficial soil/water into the well so it has turned into a swamp, your well is badly sedimented in from sediment coming in with the water (possibly due to failed screen) and has gone anaerobic (low oxygen) which could also cause the grey water and the smell, or you have contaminated groundwater from agricultural chemicals, nearby septic system or broken sewer line, or some other source like maybe neighboring property with a lot of animals or agricultural or chemical operation or such.

The pump itself would not be the source of any significant amount of sediment - black plastic tubing used for the riser pipe from submersible pumps and frequently also to the house can release black flakes when it is badly deteriorating. Usually lasts 30-50 years before that, but if you have been shocking the well frequently with acid or bleach that can cause chemical degradation and flaking off of the inside of the tubing. Anaerobic rust from the well casing or from deteriorating metal riser pipe is also a common cause of this sort of sediment and colored water, though more commonly orangish or reddish than gray - and would not be causing the smell or bad taste.

I would take pieces of clean white rag (make a hand filter using cloth like cotton or flannel works best - or a clump of medical gauze faucet), with waster flowing full flow - but not all the water has to go through the filter. Full flow so it is mobilizing the particles and sediment iun the system - but you just need to run a part of the flow through the filter to see if it is trapping sediment, rust, the black flakes, etc. Obviously, if one test show it dirtying up, use new piece at next test spot. Also put some of the water in a clear container like a glass or large-mouth glass drink bottle which you can get your nose down into but is not wide open, to smell and to see the sediment and color. In serious cases just that works without the filter test - but the filter test will show smaller amounts of sediment than just water in a bottle, and also let you use a magnifying glass easier to see exactly the particle colors and whether rust, mineral buildup, silt/mud, algae, or pieces of metal or plastic. You can also use a pocket or xacto knife or such to test flakes to see if corroded metal (break up in flakes typically) or plastic (would cut cleanly and less brittle than metal, you can shave away pieces cleanly from plastic.)

Where to test the water this way - several places, to tie down if this is coming from the well/pump, from the line to the house (assuming the well is not in the house itself), from the water heater or a water softener, or from the household piping. Places I would check (varies a bit depending on your specific piping configuration of course: - ideally at existing hose bibs/faucets, but it might be you will need to partly (without fully disconnecting it) open a coupling or two up enough to let some water flow out - be sure to let it flow for 15 seconds or so to flush out any corrosion coming fromt he fitting itself before you start the test. And obviously if badly corroded that might not be a good idea because it could break on you.

1) first, at the first tap or faucet - usually there is a bypass hose bib soon after the pump - usually right at the pump if surface mounted, or where the riser pipe from the well connects to the line leaking to the house if submersible (in-well) pump. This would tell you if it is coming from the well/pump or not.

2) at the outlet of any well pressure/filtration/surge tank - usually there is a faucet (designed to drain it) right on the downstream (house) side of those tanks. You do NOT want any fitting or valve on the tank itself - those generally are NOT intended or designed to be opened under pressure.

3) if you have a storage tank (sounds like not) then also test at the outflow from there to see if the tank has gone anaerobic or is badly sedimented in. Also, if not a pressure storage tank, you may be able to look/smell at the top hatch/port to see if a strong flashlight shows a lot of tank bottom sediment or any algal growth, or if there is any smell other than a musty damp or metallic odor.

4) then at the first place inside the house where you can pull water off - commonly at a water softener or an outdoor hose bib leading off the incoming line, or possibly a low-point drain line or maintenance located right at the house entry point, to test the water after it has gone through the line to the house (assuming the well is not under the house).

5) then individually on cold and hot water faucets in the house, preferably at the furthest end(s) of the house from the entry point. This will tell you, assuming the incoming water was fairly clean, if the problem is limited to only hot water lines or is occurring on both.

If only on hot, then water heater may well be the issue - changing to an aluminum/tin/zinc sacrificial anode in the water heater which is not so affected by manganese or iron might solve that problem. Tin/zinc anodes also act as an antibacterial and can kill the sulfur-odor and taste causing iron and manganese bacteria in many cases - as can (considering household safety concerns such as babies or disabled or elderly persons) cranking up the water temp to about 125 degrees, though that only retards, not totally stops the bacterial growth. if this is your problem (in hot water only) you will commonly also have a blackish slime or coating in the toilet tanks, if you have tempering valves on your toilets (hot and cold mixed to prevent toilet tank sweating).

If that is the problem (assuming conventional tank-type water heater), the water heater should be thoroughly flushed out at the drain valve with at least 50 gallons of water. I first (with power/gas to it off) drain water out the water heater drain bib until it runs fairly clean. Then turn off the incoming water and drain it empty so the bottom sediment on the crown sheet is exposed, then with drain valve still open turn on the cold inlet water and let it run into the tank - this will splash around in the bottom and stir the sedimetn up and flush it out better. Professional plumberswill commonly remove a top-of-tank connection and use a small-diameter jet spray nozzle or small-diameter tubing extension into the tank to spray around inside and wash the tank lining down. Let drain till visibly fairly clean water coming out, shut off drain valve and let fill all the way, then drain off another 5 gallons or so to get the sediment the incoming water that was swirling around out, close drain valve, then make sure tank is full (test at overpressure relief valve till water comes out, or open hot faucets to release the air in the pipes and refill the tank.) Note after this you will have to flush all the household lines a bit to remove sediment that broke free during the shutoff of pressure - that commonly knocks some sediment loose.


Service call - typically $150-250 or so minimum for this sort of a diagnosis call (depending on how much of the diagnosis you were able to do yourself). Obviously if the well/pump/wellhouse fixtures is the issue then a Well/Pump contractor is what you need. If the water from the well and any well-site filtration or surge tank was good, then you are talking water heater or piping issue, so a Plumber would be the logical person - or Water Treatment if the water softener was determined to be the source.


OK - that would tell you (hopefully) where in the system the particles are coming from, and hopefully the smell/color too.

The surging - could be due to limited inflow or actually running out of water - if you are able to correlate it with high simultaneous water flow demand, or with long-duration demand, that might tell you if it is a flow rate limitation or a total amount of water limitation. Common causes:

6) a sediment blockage in a surge or pressure tank (which would normally mean you would be getting surges of dirty water at the same time)

7) the water level in the well is low so the pump is running dry (test with a sustained flow test like with a hose or in tub, and see if it starts surging or runs dry after a relatively small amount of water flow). Obviously, stop once it starts running dry. If a couple of tests (after alloowing several hours recharging) give avbout the same answer, then your well capacity if likely limited and a deeping of the well or storage tank may be called for.

Since you say yuou have a high groundwater table (assuming that surficial groundwater is what you well is pulling from. If groundwater table is within 5-10 feet of surface it is commonly contaminated so the well may have a concreted casing and is actually pulling its water from a deeper aquifer which may or may not be connected to the surficial one. Therefore, high surficial water table and activer sump does not necessarily mean there is ample water in the aquifer your pump is actually pulling from.

8) well could be sedimenting in so the pump is pulling sludge or sediment from the bottom of the well at times. If this is the case, you should be seeing surges of quite dirty water after quite low flow amounts - depending of course on well diameter. Sediment could be from collapsing dirt/ground in uncased well, corroded through casing, rusted out screen (at the bottom of the casing), or just decades of slight sediment inflow coming in through the screen (usually only in fine silty or clayey formations, including river bottoms or floodplain areas, swampy areas - current or historic, or ancient clayey underwater sedimentary layers).

9) surging can also be caused by a blocked foot valve screen or sticking foot valve limiting inflow so the pump is cavitating - but normally once it gets that blocked it continues doing it all the time so you would be getting surging and air in the lines pretty much anytime there is significant water use (shower, bath, clothes washing, etc.) Ditto to a pump bearing going out - can cause surging or variable pump pressure (without the air in the lines) and will sometimes only do it at startup tilll it gets water llubricated enough to run smoothly, but once it starts usually behaves the same every use.


Water treatment - you said the whole house filter is needing frequent changing - look in it to see if there is lumpy or fibrous algae growth or buildup of reddish/orangish or yellowish sludge (mineral algae or "mineral gel" buildup from the mineralized water) or the black flakes in it. Obviously, wherever this filter is located, if getting crudded up then the source (or at least one source - household pipes may well be contributing too especially if iron or manganese bacteria isforming in the pipes) would be upflow or towards the pump from the filter.

If you have a water softener, shut off the water and open it up and inspect for proper salt/resin content and appearance. If you dosed the well with acid or bleach and did not flush it out well and have the water softener on bypass during this, you likely ruined the resin or polymer or whatever active media you have - if so, the media will commonly be blackish or really bleached out, indicating it needs replacement. Ditto to many types of reverse osmosis media if you have that.

Cost for a well rahab - varies by locale, depth and diameter of well, pump size and setting depth, what needs replacing, etc - commonly about $500-1000 range to clean the well and pull and inspect the pump and check for corroded/broken casing or screen. Actual casing/screen replacement or deepening the well (drilling below its original depth) commonly runs on the order of $30-70/LF of repair or redrilling/recasing. Sometimes if the well is large enough a repair or deepening can be done at depth by going with the next smaller size casing/screen - in small diameter wells or ones with heavily corroded casing (commonly over 50 years old for that) the entire casing may have to be pulled and the well redrilled/reamed out as appropriate, and new casing/screen set. And of course new pump, if needed because it is real old or has been pumping a lot of sediment, commonly another $500-1000 for very shallow wells, $1000-2000 commonly for normal depth wells from say 25-50 feet or so on up to 100-150 feet deep, and on up from there for deeper wells to potentially many thousands for very deep wells pulling from below oil or salt water or such.

Dishwasher should have had no effect, except if run simultaneously with showering/tub filling or clothes washer or outdoor watering going at same time, which of course if your pump/well capacity is limited would then cause surging or air pockets or running out of water quicker.

One other thing on the grey, stinky water - if you regularly dose the well (not a good idea - if you need to do that you probably need a chlorination system) that might be killing the naturally occurring iron/manganese eating bacteria and such in the well, which then form a blackish smelly anaeropbic (low oxygen) slime from the dead bacteria which can take awhile to dissipate - then the well might bo back to aerobic and form new bacteria, then go through the same cycle again after you chlorine shock the well again. This can happen in the well as well as in the piping to and in the house, as well as in the water heater.

Another thing to discuss with well contractor since you have a sealed-head well (probably due to intermittent risk of flooding by surface waters) - is your well may be anaerobic due to lack of oxygen - many wells that are sealed at the top need an aeration or aerated water system to keep them from going anaerobic. Some use an air pump running air down a small diameter pipe to near the bottom of the well as a bubbler system to aerate the water, others use an aeration pump (which mixes air with the water) and inject that aerated water into the top of the well to drop into it. The latter, because if it running typically several gpm, needs a storage tank system for it to draw from so it does not keep cycling the well pump too much. A third method, normally only used in large diameter wells (commonly old hand-dug ones) is a separate aerator submersible pump in the well which uses a surface aerator aspirator (injector) to circulate water independently through the well, adding air at the surface as it circulates.

This whole aeration thing did not used to be such a problem because most well were open-topped (mayve a trash cover or screen but far from airtight) but now pretty much any well has to have a vandal-proof and in many cases (if there is any chance of it being flooded with surface water) airtight - so a lot more wells are going anaerobic than used to be the case.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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