With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment industry, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley.

While you may have heard the term “problem water,” most consumers are not really clear on what that actually means.   “Problem water,” has a rather loose and broad definition.   Simply put however, it’s basically any water that requires treatment beyond basic water softening. This means that the “problem” water in question, contains contaminants other than magnesium and calcium (typically associated with hard water.)

Where Do “Problem water” Contaminants Come From?

Domestic water is characteristically derived from one of two sources: public municipalities (and community wells) or private wells. The main source of water for private or community wells is groundwater. This runs underground and will often pick up contaminants as it travels. The main source of water for public municipalities is from surface water such as reservoirs or lakes. This type of water is free from contaminants as original rainwater, but as it runs off through agricultural areas or travels through pipes, it can accumulate contaminants.

Drinking water in Canadian cities is not always tested for all contaminants

Water contaminants can become problematic and a concern for consumers when they create an aesthetic change to the water or they potentially become harmful to health. There are a number of common contaminants, which can dramatically alter the taste, appearance, and smell of water. For example, hydrogen sulfide creates a rotten egg smell, chlorine makes water taste unpalatable and iron can stain fixtures.

While municipal drinking water is often treated, it generally contains small amounts of several contaminants. There are typically around 75 major contaminants that are monitored by municipalities in Canada.  But not all are.

Conversely if you are using water from a private well, only you are responsible for the safety of your water. This means that homeowners with a private well water supply are accountable for testing and monitoring their own water for the levels of contaminants.

Indications of Problem Water

The main concern about problem water is that often homeowners are unsure about whether they have an issue at all. Fortunately, problem water often leaves indications around the home, so providing you are aware of these warning signs, you can be aware if you have a problem. The most obvious indications of a problem are the rotten egg smell, a bad taste, cloudy or discolored water, a build-up of slime in toilet tanks, pipe and plumbing corrosion or stains on fixtures or clothing. Other indications, which can be overlooked, as a sign of a water problem, are dull hair, dry skin or health issues, such as stomach upset.

What to do Next

If you have noticed any of these common indications of water problems in your home, or you are simply interested in knowing more about what’s really in your water, you should get your water tested. A basic water test can be performed by a water quality professional or a water sample can be sent to a lab for more comprehensive testing. These tests can determine if your water supply contains levels of contaminants, which would make it problem water.

If it is determined that you have problem water, it usually can be corrected. There are a wide range of domestic water treatment options including basic items such as filter pitchers to more comprehensive, professional solutions like whole house systems.

It’s worth noting the advice of a water treatment specialist to ensure that you have all the facts required to make an informed decision. Depending on your budget and the severity of your water problem, you will need to determine which solution is best suited to your particular problem in relation to need.