Pumped up.
February 25, 2011 5:12 AM   Subscribe

Two months ago, I replaced my well pump, but my domestic water still shows light traces of brown. Will this diminish over time?

The well pump replacement was preceded by the usual scenario: First, a few days of water turning increasingly brown. Then, in a sudden, disturbing instant, nada--no water whatsoever. The pump, at about 20 years in age, had died. I replaced it with a new model, and (as the plumber forewarned me) our water was brown and gritty for 24 hours. Then, this diminished to a light tint which continues to this day.

The water appears clear when a bathtub or sink is filled. However, I know that traces of dirt still exist because the porcelain toilet bowl takes on a brownish tint after a week or so. The water tastes as it always does. I did a water test, and came up negative for all dangerous or undesirable minerals (such as iron, lead, etc.); however, the test recorded our water as "moderately hard." Despite this measurement, it suds readily.

-Why does brownish water proceed a pump failure--and continue immediately following the replacement of a new pump? I don't have a clue as to the hydrophysics behind this. What's going on here?
-Will the current brownish tint on porcelain fade after a few months? If it doesn't, how can I remediate it?
-Will moderately hard water adversely affect my pipes, or any part of my house exposed to the well water (such as the heating system or hot water tank)? (Note: I realize that, in all likelihood, this is a separate issue from the pump.)
posted by Gordion Knott to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
I suspect that the brown you're seeing on the side of the bowl is due to rust, not dirt. You should be able to add a filter to your system specifically to remove the iron/rust.

as for the brown water you experienced, anytime you mess with the well, pipes, etc, you are knocking loose and stirring up sediment in the system (just as happens when they flush a municipal system, users will often see sediment in the water for a period of time).
posted by tomswift at 5:41 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

-Why does brownish water proceed a pump failure
The pump may have failed because your well has started to dry-up, or become silted. The brown you are seeing is not anything created by the pump. It's what the pump is sucking up from the well itself.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:10 AM on February 25, 2011

This is just speculation but perhaps it will help: my (garden) well water is a very light transparent green and has no solids in it when it is pumped from the ground. If you let it sit in a bucket for a few hours it turns brown and then it has filter-able solids. I think what is happening is a ferrous (++) salt of some kind is being oxidized to a ferric (+++) compound which then can precipitate out. Iron and manganese were found as contaminants in this well. The house water well is a different source, but it has similar contaminants at lower levels and I get rid of those with an ozonator - again, this oxidizes dissolved compounds which are then filtered out.

The key here is as long as the water and air aren't together, I don't get the brown solids.

Maybe the mechanism of your water changes is similar: when your well is drawn down you are mixing air with the water - that would also be bad for the pump - and by that means you are getting solids within the pipes that you don't notice most of the time. Once there are solids at the wellhead, some will remain inside the plumbing and continue to turn up for a while.

You can test the brown stains by applying an acid - if they are transition metal oxides like iron oxide, they will be dissolved. No matter how much crud appears in my water, all the stains are removable like this.
posted by jet_silver at 7:12 AM on February 25, 2011

I don't know what area you are from but is iron bacteria common? You may have to shock clorinate your well. The changing of your pump may be a red herring.
posted by canoehead at 7:27 AM on February 25, 2011

It's hard to know precisely what is going on, but when the pump failed it could have been because it was drawing down faster than the well could feed it. This could result in all manner if stuff being stirred up in the bottom of the well and being put into suspension. If the well continues to lag the draw-down rate, it will continue to agitate the water in the well. Did the plumber, when he set the new pump test it for draw-down? Did he set it at the same level as the old pump, raise it or lower it?

Shocking the well is a good idea. Be sure to let it set undisturbed for several hours and then pump it out onto the ground for ten or fifteen minutes so that super-chlorinated water doesn't enter the house system.

Pour some household bleach into the toilet and let it sit for an hour. If the stains go away, it is likely organic. If not, it is likely calcium build-up or some other mineral interaction. After flushing a couple of times, move up to toilet bowl cleaner. Again, let it sit in the bowl for an hour, scrub with a toilet brush and look again. Never put more than one chemical into the toilet at the same time.
posted by Old Geezer at 8:10 AM on February 25, 2011

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