Common Water Problems & The Hydrologic Cycle

The Earth's Hydrologic Water Cycle

The Hydrologic Cycle or Water Cycle (sometimes called the Hydrological Cycle) is the continuous process of water circulating within the Earth’s hydrosphere and it is driven by solar radiation. Water is transferred around our planet by this constant never ending cycle and changes form between being a solid, a gas or a liquid. The hydrologic water cycle has the physical processes of Evaporation and/or Evapotranspiration, Condensation, Precipitation, and then soil Infiltration. Once rain, snow or ice precipitation falls to earth – it takes the form of Runoff, Percolation, and then Groundwater creating the Water Table. This water finds its way by gravity to streams, lakes, oceans – or into your home by means of an electric submersible pump or jet pump if you are on a private well system.

the hydrologic cycle

Groundwater can be thousands of years old and because of that it has had plenty of time to dissolve all kinds of minerals, gasses and other contaminants. Most of these natural “contaminants” are not harmful to humans, but can wreak havoc on a household plumbing system. The following is a basic explanation of the most common aesthetic water quality problems.

Common Well Water Problems

Hard Water

What is commonly called “hard water” are naturally occurring salts of calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. These minerals were originally termed “hard” because washing clothes and bathing in this water is difficult by creating soap curd residue and little if any lather. Skin also becomes very dry and itchy from soap residue and untreated hard water can exacerbate skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. Once modern plumbing systems were developed hard water became a nuisance by clogging pipes, filling electric and gas water heaters with scale deposits and destroying other water using appliances. Hard water that tests above 7 grains per gallon (119.7 ppm or mg/l) contains enough calcium and magnesium to require a water softener.

clogged water pipe

Iron Water

Iron Water or “Irony Water” is one of the most common and difficult problems to treat without the proper water filtration equipment. There are five (5) types of iron found in groundwater, these are: Clear Water (ferrous), Red Water (ferric), Bacterial (Crenothrix, Leptothrix, Gallionella), Organic (Tannin, Heme, Complexed, Pink), and Colloidal Iron. The most common forms found in Maryland and the surrounding areas are Clear and Red Water Iron. Water containing only 0.3 ppm-mg/l of iron is enough to permanently stain household fixtures, appliances and ruin laundry. 

Sediment in Water

High sediment is mostly found in well water systems. It ranges from sand or grit you can see that sinks to the bottom of a glass in seconds, silt that can stay suspended in water for hours, to turbid water (called sub-micron turbidity) that stays cloudy and will never settle-out. This water quality problem can also be caused by a failing well system or the well pump to close to the bottom. Water high in sediment is very abrasive – this grit will prematurely wear out and create leaks in o-rings/seals in appliances, plumbing fixtures, and will clog pipes and water heaters.

water with sediment in it

Manganese in Water

Manganese is a difficult water quality problem because takes only a very small amount to cause damage and it turns everything it touches dark brown or black. It takes only a tiny 0.05ppm-mg/l of this element in water to be noticeable and cause staining of sinks, bathtubs and other plumbing fixtures. Because manganese forms a sticky coating in pipes and water heaters it has a tendency to clump together and will put black spots on white clothes and other laundry items. 

manganese water

Acidic Water

Acidic Well Water is probably the most damaging but also common water problems a homeowner can face. Only until a customer starts to find pinhole leaks in their copper pipes, mold growing in walls and ceilings, or sinks and bathroom fixtures with blue green stains that can’t be removed do they call us and ask for help. If your house was built before about 1985, you may also have a potential lead contamination problem. That was when lead solder used for copper plumbing connections was outlawed and only lead free solder was permitted for new house construction and repairs. Also most counties in the State of Maryland now require a “first draw” lead test (water that has been sitting in pipes untouched for 12 hours or more) before a house can be put on the market and sold. Acid water by itself is harmless and is water with a pH of less than 7.0 – carbon dioxide content is also a factor in the aggressiveness of the water. It is heavy metals and other substances dissolved by this “hungry” water that can be of a serious health concern.

rusty pipe

Sulfur Water

Sulfur Water or well water that smells like “rotten eggs” contains a colorless disolved gas called hydrogen sulfide that can be very repulsive to a homeowner. It comes and goes for no particular reason and is usually the worst after the water sits unused (like in the morning shower) and is strongest on the top floor baths. Sulphur Water although smelly in small concentrations is also harmful to humans and explosive in very high concentrations. A variety of treatment methods are available including chlorine feed pumps, aeration, and specialty catalyst materials. Sulphur Water is accompanied by and sometimes mistaken for iron bacteria problems because they both smell nearly the same. This problem requires an experienced water conditioning professional to figure out one from the other and recommend the proper treatment equipment.

woman holding her nose