The water tank is a life-saving implement. It collects water when it rains, and you can use your stored resources for weeks, or even months to come. And in the event you need to source water elsewhere and truck it to your home or office, large-scale storage prevents the need to do that trip on a daily basis, which would be inconvenient and time-consuming, not to mention expensive.
There’s one downside to long-term water storage though. Once the water is in the tank, we often forget about it. We rarely inspect the tank, so we’re unlikely to know when the water has run out, or when some unwanted contaminant has dropped into the tank. In fact, we rarely notice foreign objects until the damage is done.
Essentially, this means by the time we realise the tank has been contaminated; the water has already been affected, so we now need to clean it out, possibly emptying it all together. Of course, this water damage takes a few days or maybe even weeks to ‘spoil’ the water, so if we get into the habit of regularly checking our water, we can minimize its effects.
One of the first signs that there’s something wrong with the water is the scent. You might know that scent is particulate. This means when you ‘smell’ anything, you’re inhaling microscopic pieces of that item. This becomes more applicable for tank contaminant because it means bits of the contaminant have seeped into your nasal passages.
Two other hints that there’s something in the water are sight and taste. Discoloration is easy to spot if the water is in a white, pale, or transparent container, but might be harder to see if the water is flowing, or if it’s pouring into a dark bucket. Before letting tank water into any other container, test a small amount in a clear cup or bowl, just to be sure.
Taste is a little harder to identify because few people use their tank water for drinking or cooking. If they do, they boil it first or treat it with a sterilising chemical. Both these actions are likely to destroy germs, and will often camouflage the strange taste, so you won’t be aware of the contaminant, which may still be inside the tank.
Let’s look at some common (but unwanted) smells, tastes, and colours that are a sign your tank water needs decontamination. If your water suddenly reminds you of rotten eggs, it might mean one of your kids threw some in the tank, or maybe a stray bird or reptile used it as a hatchery. The issue here is sulphur contamination.
Sulphur isn’t a particularly toxic substance. It won’t harm your health, but it tastes terrible and will have all your clothes, cars, dishes, and toilets smelling like they were pelted with eggs, which isn’t a pleasant spectacle. Fortunately, there are lots of commercial products you can add to the water to get rid of the unwanted sulphur.
Chlorine is commonly used to disinfect water, but if you can smell it, you probably used too much. It’s also likely that there are unadvised levels of trihalomethanes in the water. Trihalomethane is a chlorine by-product. Test the pH of the water to see how bad the situation is, then consider switching to a different method of filtration if you need to.
The smell of gas is distinct and familiar, and it’s the last scent you want to find in your water because petroleum contamination can be lethal. Fuel-infused water needs immediate professional filtration, so call a tank maintenance expert, and possibly a health worker too.
Organic smells like grass, fish, or mould can be disorienting. You’ll be left wondering what’s swimming in your tank, and you might never really find out because by the time you can identify those familiar smells, it’s likely the source has decomposed. Your solution here is to use sterilisation products that keep unwanted biological ‘visitors’ under control.
If you do use your tank water for drinking, keep a close eye on how it tastes. It shouldn’t be hard to detect because water has a very distinct ‘lack of flavor’. Kids often say water ‘tastes like nothing’, and that makes it easy to detect anything that shouldn’t be there.
Water that tastes salty is likely to have sodium contaminants, while metallic water may be infused with manganese, iron, lead, copper, or zinc. In trace amounts, these elements are harmless, and some of them may even be useful health supplements. But by the time you can taste them, they’re no longer benign. Use sterilisers to eliminate the excess.
As for colour, you might notice it as the water flows or sits in the white testing bowl, but it’s more likely you’ll spot brown or orange stains in your sinks or dishes. This indicates rust, which means the water has excess iron.
At the other end of the spectrum, if your clothes and dishes suddenly have scum and residue, it’s a sign of calcium and magnesium. They make clothes scratchy and stiff, and you may notice your soap won’t lather easily. All these elements can be controlled using commercial water softening products.
Once you note any contamination or foreign matter in your tank, have the water professionally tested and analysed to confirm the nature and amount of contaminant. The experts will advise you on the best course of action to make your water safe and usable again.