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Frequently Asked Questions

Operations

Where does my drinking water come from?

Where does the water go when it goes down the drain?

How are fire hydrants maintained?

Compost

What is compost?

Where can I get compost?

Is it safe to use on my garden?

Water Quality

Can I tell if my drinking water is okay by just looking at it, tasting it, or smelling it?

How do I find out if my water is safe to drink?

Are all chemicals in my drinking water bad for me?

Does drinking water contain calories, fat, sugar, caffeine, or cholesterol?

How does lead get into my drinking water?

How can I get lead out of my drinking water?

How can I find out if my water is supplied through lead pipes?

Is the fluoride in my drinking water safe?

Is water with chlorine in it safe to drink?

What can I do if my drinking water tastes "funny"?

Drinking water often looks cloudy when first taken from a faucet and then it clears up. Why is that?

My drinking water is reddish or brown. What causes this?

How long can I store drinking water?

Is it okay to use hot water from the tap for cooking?

Is it okay to use hot water from the tap to make baby formula?

Is it okay to heat water for coffee or tea in the microwave in a Styrofoam cup?

What is "hard" water?

When I put ice cubes that I've made into a glass of water, white stuff appears in the glass as the ice cubes melt. What is the white stuff and where does it come from?

What is the white stuff in my coffee pot and on my showerhead and glass shower door? How can I get rid of it?

Why does my dishwater leave spots on my glasses?

I want to store some water for a possible emergency. Is bottled water okay to store?

How much water does one person use each day?

How should I fill my fish aquarium?

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Operations

Q: Where does my drinking water come from?

A: Wells.

Q: Where does the water go when it goes down the drain?

A: If you are on a wastewater system, all of the drains in your house are connected to a single pipe that leads to the street. The pipe in the street collects the wastewater from all the homes in your area and takes it to a larger pipe that collects wastewater from other streets. The wastewater then flows into still bigger pipes that connect various neighborhoods. Think of a large tree with your house at the tip of a branch near the top. Like the tree branches that are bigger nearer the ground, the pipes in the wastewater collection system are larger and contain more liquid as they near the wastewater treatment plant. Here, the wastewater is treated and cleaned so that it can be put back into the environment without harming anything. A drinking water distribution system looks the same but in this case the drinking water goes from the treatment plant to your home. 

Q: How are fire hydrants maintained?

A: Utility personnel perform semi-annual maintenance on all hydrants generally during the months of May and September. This testing ensures fire hydrants function properly in case there is a fire, and helps keep customer's insurance rates down. During testing, the water may become discolored for a day or so, but water consumption is not harmful. Use caution when washing light colored clothes. If the discoloring persists for more than a day, call Customer Service.

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Compost

Q: What is compost?

A: Compost is a byproduct of wastewater biosolids that has been biologically decomposed and stabilized under controlled conditions to a state in which it can be safety handled, stored and applied to land. Our compost meets the EPA standards for "exceptional quality" and can be used without restrictions.

Q: Where can I get compost?

A: Compost is available at Golden Heart Utilities Wastewater Treatment Plant, 4247 Peger Road, Fairbanks, Alaska (See Map). Please contact our office at 479-3118 for availability. We also have a sample pile behind our administrative offices at 3691 Cameron Street.

Q: Is it safe to use compost in my garden?

A: Yes. As a matter of fact, nearly half of the biosolids production in the US is currently used beneficially to improve soil according to the EPA.

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Water Quality

Q: Can I tell if my drinking water is okay by just looking at it, tasting it, or smelling it?

A:  No. None of the chemicals or microbes that could make you sick can be seen, tasted, or smelled.

Q: How do I find out if my water is safe to drink?

A: If you do not have your own private well, you can telephone your water supplier and ask if the water meets federal or state standards. If it does, the water is safe to drink. (This is good practice when you move to a new location.) You can also ask your city, borough, or state health department. In the United Sates, federal law states that consumers must be notified if violations of regulations occur. Canadian law does not require violations to be reported to consumers. If you have your own private well, you are responsible for having it tested yourself. Once it has been tested, you can discuss the results with your local health department.

Q: Are all chemicals in my drinking water bad for me?

A: No. Some chemicals, fluoride for example, are good for you, and some minerals are accepted by most to be beneficial in drinking water. In addition, many chemicals have no bad effect on your health. Chemicals are not bad just because they are chemicals. For example, water itself is a chemical, and we depend on chemicals in food to keep us alive.

Q: Does drinking water contain calories, fat, sugar, caffeine, or cholesterol?

A: No.

Q: How does lead get into my drinking water?

A: Not all drinking water contains lead. Lead can be present in pipes and in soldered connections, the lead may dissolve into the water while the water is not moving, generally overnight or at other times when the water supply is not used for several hours. Faucets with brass or bronze internal parts may also be a major source of lead under these conditions.

The first water that comes from the faucet after long periods of nonuse may have lead in it. Hard water sometimes picks up less lead than naturally soft low mineral content water because any water with low amounts of dissolved minerals tends to dissolve metal pipes and hard water has a tendency to lay down a scale layer on the inside of pipes.

In the United States, lead is now banned in pipes and in solder and the voluntary standard for lead in faucets has caused the plumbing industry to change manufacturing methods. However, the piping systems in many cities and faucets still contain lead. Also, the ban on lead-based solder is inconsistently enforced. Consumers should insist that no plumbing repairs be done with lead-based solder and that it not be used in new homes.

Q: How can I get lead out of my drinking water?

A: Not all homes have a lead problem, but if testing has indicated a problem, if you think your water is corrosive, or if you have rusty water or blue-green stains in your sink, take the following precautions.

Whenever water has not been used for a long period of time – overnight or during the day if no one is home – let the cold water run from the faucet for two minutes before using any water for drinking or cooking. Saving this water for other purposes such as plant watering is a good conservation measure. Letting the water run for two minutes will not flush out all the lead that got into the water while it was sitting in your plumbing, but it will improve the situation greatly.

Note: It is difficult to know how long it takes the "fresh" water from the street pipes to arrive at the faucet. The time needed varies depending on your specific location, water pressure, whether you live in a single-family home or an apartment, and so forth.

If the water from your cold water faucet gets colder after it has run for a while, always leave the tap open until you feel the colder water. Otherwise, two minutes is usually enough for most homes. Flushing a toilet doesn't work; you must run the faucet you are actually going to use for drinking or cooking.

Q: How can I find out if my water is supplied through lead pipes?

A: The water main in the road will not be made of lead – usually it's cement-lined cast iron or sometimes plastic – but the connection from the pipe in the street to the pipe to your house, the pipe connecting it to your house, or the pipes within your house might be.

In older homes the household pipes might be lead, copper, or galvanized iron. Joints on lead pipes are usually very bulky compared with the relatively neat fittings of copper and galvanized iron. You can tell copper by the color, but you might have to scrape off some paint to see the actual pipe material. Copper and galvanized iron give a more metallic sound when gently tapped with a small hammer. If you are in doubt, consult a reputable plumber.

Lead pipes are unlikely to be found in newer housing, as their use has been banned since 1986.

Q: Is the fluoride in my drinking water safe?

A: Yes. When added or naturally present in the correct amounts, fluoride in drinking water has greatly improved the dental health of American and Canadian consumers. Early studies suggesting that fluoride was a possible cancer-causing chemical proved to be incorrect. A 1993 report by the National Research council of the National Academy of Sciences, Health Risk of Ingested Fluoride, states, "Currently allowed fluoride levels in drinking water do not pose a risk of health problems such as cancer, kidney failure, or bone disease." Excess fluoride in water is removed by the water supplier using special treatment.

Q: Is water with chlorine in it safe to drink?

A: Yes. Many tests have shown that the amount of chlorine found in treated water is safe to drink, although some people object to the taste.

Q: What can I do if my drinking water tastes "funny"?

A: Three suggestions are:

Q: Drinking water often looks cloudy when first taken from a faucet and then it clears up. Why is that?

A: The cloudy water is caused by tiny air bubbles in the water similar to the gas bubbles in beer and carbonated soft drinks. After a while, the bubbles rise to the top and are gone. This type of cloudiness occurs more often in the winter, when the drinking water is cold.

Q: My drinking water is reddish or brown. What causes this?

A: This reddish-brown color is nontoxic, but it is not harmless. It can stain clothing in the wash, and it looks bad.

The possible causes are:

Q: How long can I store drinking water?

A: Drinking water that is thoroughly disinfected can be stored indefinitely in capped plastic or glass containers that water will not rust, as metal containers may. Be careful to use plastic that will not make the water taste bad-trial and error is best here. Because the disinfectant that was in the water when you stored it will slowly go away, replacing the water every six months is recommended. The taste will become “flat” after extended storage, so periodic replacement will help here also. If possible, you should store water in the refrigerator to help control bacterial (not germ) growth.

Q: Is it okay to use hot water from the tap for cooking?

A: No. Use cold water. Hot water is more likely to contain rust, copper, and lead from your household plumbing and water heater because these contaminants generally dissolve into hot water from the plumbing faster than into cold water.

Q: Is it okay to use hot water from the tap to make baby formula?

A: No. Hot water may contain impurities that come from the hot water heater and plumbing in your house. To avoid this, use cold water and let the water run for a couple of minutes before you use it if that tap has not been used for a while, overnight, or all day. You can then heat this water on the stove. Catching the water you flush out of the tap in a container and saving it for plant watering is a good conservation measure.

Q: Is it okay to heat water for coffee or tea in the microwave in a Styrofoam cup?

A: Yes. The chemicals in the Styrofoam are not affected by the microwaves and do not "melt" and get into the water.

Q: What is "hard" water?

A: "Hardness" in drinking water is caused by two nontoxic chemicals (usually called minerals) – calcium and magnesium. If calcium and/or magnesium is present in your water in substantial amounts, the water is said to be hard because making a lather or suds for washing is hard (difficult) to do. Thus, cleaning with hard water is hard/difficult. Water containing little calcium or magnesium is called soft water.

Q: When I put ice cubes that I've made into a glass of water, white stuff appears in the glass as the ice cubes melt. What is the white stuff and where does it come from?

A: Ice cubes freeze from the outside, so the center of the cube is the last to freeze. Ice is pure water, only H 2 O, so as the ice cube freezes, all of the dissolved minerals are pushed to the center. Near the end of the freezing, there isn't much water left in the center of the cube, so these minerals become very concentrated, and they form the "white stuff" – the technical name is precipitate. The hardness minerals that cause the "white stuff" are not toxic.

Q: What is the white stuff in my coffee pot and on my showerhead and glass shower door? How can I get rid of it?

A: Minerals dissolved in water tend to settle out when water is heated or are left behind when it evaporates. These minerals are white and accumulate in coffee pots and on showerheads and glass shower doors.

To remove these minerals, fill the coffee pot with vinegar and let it sit overnight, or soak the showerhead overnight in a plastic bowl filled with vinegar. Rinse the coffee pot or showerhead thoroughly after treatment and before use. Pouring the excess hot liquid out of your coffee pot when you are finished with it will help somewhat in preventing this problem.

White spots on glass shower doors are difficult to remove with vinegar because the spots dissolve very slowly. A better idea is to prevent the spots from forming by wiping the glass door with a damp sponge or towel after each shower.

Q: Why does my dishwater leave spots on my glasses?

A: The spots that appear on glassware after it is washed and air-dried are caused by nontoxic minerals that remain on the glass when the water evaporates. Commercial products are available that allow the water to drain from the glassware more completely.

Q: I want to store some water for a possible emergency. Is bottled water okay to store?

A: No. Bottled water is a good source of drinking water during emergencies, but it does not store well. Because it generally doesn't contain a disinfectant, microbes grow in it over time. Tap water, which does contain a chemical disinfectant, should be stored in proper containers for an emergency, although even it will not last indefinitely.

If your water stops during an emergency, remember the water in your hot water-tank, melted ice cubes, and the water in your toilet tank reservoir can be used. If you have the ability to do so, boiling these sources of water is always a good idea before drinking.

Q: How much water does one person use each day?

A: Total water use varies depending on lawn watering, if any, and whether a home has a washing machine and dishwasher. The US average is nearly 50 gallons used each day by each person. Of this, the amount used for cooking and drinking varies among individuals, from about 13 ounces to about 2 quarts. The average use is about 2.5 pints – about half for plain water consumed as a beverage and the rest consumed in other beverages and used for cooking.

Q: How should I fill my fish aquarium?

A: First, allow at least 1 gallon of water to run from the tap before using the water to fill the aquarium. This will flush any copper or zinc from copper or galvanized piping in your home; tropical fish are very sensitive to small amounts of copper or zinc in their water. With a plate in one hand, pour water over the plate into the aquarium, allowing the water to drop about 1 foot before hitting the plate. This will add air (oxygen) to the water. Let the water sit in the aquarium for an hour or two until it reaches room temperature. Consult your local pet store to learn how to test for and remove any disinfectant in the water. Remove the disinfectant from the water in the aquarium before adding the fish.

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