Addressing iron in your water-wastewater system

Posted in: Infrastructure, Water


Iron turning bathwater rusty-orange.
Iron turning bathwater rusty-orange.

Unpleasant tastes or odors, stains on linens, or rusty slime build-up on plumbing fixtures are just a few of the problems associated with iron and iron bacteria. Elevated iron levels lead to the formation of iron bacteria in water systems. Although iron bacteria isn’t hazardous to our health, we don’t want the associated problems it can cause.

Iron bacteria is found in surface water and soil. It finds its way into your water supply’s aquifer naturally or through contamination. A faulty well casing allowing surface water to penetrate your well is a common cause. A well driller must make sure the equipment used for drilling or inspecting a well is clean and chlorinated to prevent iron bacteria contamination.

It’s extremely difficult to remove iron bacteria after it’s been introduced. Iron bacteria shields itself from chlorine by forming slime layers around the bacterial cells, making it difficult to kill.

There are solutions to help eradicate iron bacteria:

  • Super chlorinating your well will help. This is not always a permanent solution.
  • Injecting hot water or steam into the well will help disperse the slime, allowing chlorine to kill the bacteria hiding behind it.
  • Replacing ductile distribution lines and galvanized pipes eliminates iron as a food source for the bacteria already in the distribution system. However, I’d only recommend this in severe contamination situations.

Small water treatment systems have unique issues, particularly related to distribution system maintenance. A well-executed valve-turning and hydrant-flushing plan can greatly reduce the buildup of iron bacteria in your system. Some small distribution systems don’t have flushing hydrants to aid in flushing. You can circumvent the lack by adding timers to valves on designated flushing lines. The valves will then open at specified times to move water through the system flushing buildup out of the pipes.

Removing iron at the source is key in keeping iron bacteria at bay. There are various iron removal systems on the market today. Some require filter systems, water-softening systems or ozone systems.  Small communities, resorts or condominium associations should consider filter backwash when selecting the right treatment system.

Each system has pros and cons. Mead & Hunt can work with you to help decide on the best treatment or removal option for your system.


Casey Rose

About the Author

Casey Rose has worked in the wastewater industry for nearly 20 years with experience working for municipalities and consultant contract operations. Casey is well-known for his ability to build a strong relationships with each client and has a robust background in operations, safety, client communication, construction management and fiscal responsibility.

Read more posts by Casey Rose

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