Drinking Water and Water Resources
Water Quality and Safety
The Utilities Department diligently ensures that water is safely and efficiently delivered to customers. Chesterfield County water consumers can be assured that the water they drink meets or exceeds federal drinking-water standards. The water-quality testing program is aggressive in meeting the standards, representing far more additional tests beyond the minimum levels required by law.
Maintaining the water quality in the James River and the Chesapeake Bay is equally as important to the social and economic future of Chesterfield County and the commonwealth of Virginia. The Proctors Creek and the Falling Creek wastewater treatment plants play significant roles in achieving this goal by consistently meeting all environmental regulations.
Both plants have received awards of excellence from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Virginia Water Environment Association. In 2013, nutrient upgrades were completed for both plants. These facility upgrades help ensure that Chesterfield County is a responsible steward of the environment and better protect the James River and Chesapeake Bay.
Chesterfield County has three water sources:
The Story of Drinking Water
Do you know the story of drinking water? Learn more on the American Water Works Association's DrinkTap.org.
Drinking Water Sampling Program
Chesterfield County Utilities does have a rigorous water-sampling program, so you may meet utilities staff from time to time. Following are examples of sampling routinely performed by utilities personnel:
- Monthly bacteriological compliance sampling at 150 predetermined sites, but occasionally staff may approach different customers to collect samples if a designated sample site is unavailable or for follow-up sampling.
- Line-break or tie-in follow-up sampling, by request, if there is a waterline break or when a new waterline is installed in the area to ensure there has been no contamination of the water during the repair or connection.
- Lead and copper study or water quality parameter sampling is performed at predetermined sites, but occasionally staff may approach customers to collect samples if a designated sample site is unavailable. Lead and copper sampling does require the customer to collect a sample first thing in the morning before any other water is used so a container will be provided along with sampling instructions.
If You Are Asked for a Water Sample
The Chesterfield County Department of Utilities has seen an increase in customer concerns about private companies offering water testing and then recommending they buy expensive water filters. Typically, these customers were approached by salespeople for companies selling water filtration systems and offering to sample water for free during in-home visits. The companies represented by these salespeople may use certain words or pamphlets to appear they are working in conjunction with Chesterfield County Utilities, however, Chesterfield County Utilities is not affiliated with these companies in any way. Chesterfield County Utilities does not sell water filters, use private companies to collect water samples or charge for water testing. Also, Chesterfield County does not provide recommendations for filtration systems.
If you are asked for a water sample, please ask the person if they are employed by the Chesterfield County Department of Utilities. Ask to see their Chesterfield County identification badge and observe that they are driving a Chesterfield County vehicle with the Chesterfield County logo. Utilities employees will always have a badge and be driving a county vehicle showing the logo. If you have doubts, do not hesitate to call the Chesterfield County Utilities quality assurance coordinator at 804-318-8129. The coordinator can verify the identity of trained Chesterfield County Utilities employees performing legitimate county drinking-water sampling.
Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Testing Program
Chesterfield has a very aggressive water quality testing program to ensure we provide the highest quality water service to our customers. Most recently, in May 2021, we voluntarily participated in the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) PFAS testing program. All values were either below method detection limit (not detected) or below practical quantitation limits (where values are below a concentration where they can be measured with a high degree of confidence). With significant increases in laboratory technology, the testing detection and quantifiable limits are extremely low, well below the long-term EPA health advisory limits or any of the limits set by multiple states across the country. We are very fortunate in Chesterfield County, as other locations around the United States are struggling with expensive treatment programs due to their testing results.
View the complete VDH PFAS Sample Study Summary (PDF) and find Chesterfield-specific information on page 10, table 2. Samples with PFAS below the practical quantitation limit (PQL) list the results for the Chesterfield County Central Water System (including all three of our drinking-water suppliers). The results are below the PQL. For further information on health concerns and PFAS, please visit the Environmental Protection Agency website.
- Why does my drinking water have an earthy taste and odor?
Seasonal environmental conditions including, but not limited to, rain, drought, temperature and growth of aquatic plants in the water source can contribute to changes in taste and odor in the drinking water. Geosmin and Methyl-Isoborneol (MIB) are common reasons that contribute to an earthy taste and odor.
- What is Geosmin and MIB?
Geosmin and Methyl-Isoborneol (MIB) are naturally occurring compounds in surface water systems such as lakes and rivers. The compounds produce a very strong, earthy or moldy taste and odor. In fact, Geosmin provides the characteristic earthy flavor in red beets and may be found in other fruits and vegetables providing a musty flavor. Geosmin can be detected by humans as low as 10 nanograms per liter. A nanogram is one millionth of a milligram. Or in other words, as small as one cent of ten billion dollars. These compounds are usually associated with aquatic plants in lakes and reservoirs during certain times of the year. The compounds can sometimes pass through a water treatment plant and become noticeable.
- What are the effects of Geosmin and MIB?
Geosmin and MIB produce a musty, earthy smell and taste in drinking water. Both compounds are not harmful at levels present in drinking water.
- What causes increased levels of Geosmin and MIB?
Some kinds of algae and bacteria present in lake and river water naturally produce Geosmin and MIB. An increase in this production typically happens during late spring to early fall when water temperatures are warm.
- What can be done about Geosmin and MIB?
Geosmin and MIB are removed during the water treatment process but at times may still be noticeable. Water treatment facilities that provide water to Chesterfield County employ activated carbon that is effective in reducing Geosmin and MIB levels. Adjustments to treatment systems are done but sometimes Geosmin and MIB may still remain noticeable in the water system for several days to weeks.
- Is the water safe to drink?
While the drinking water can be aesthetically unpleasing, the water is safe to drink. This is a harmless and temporary condition which can affect a surface water system at any time.
- What is being done to address the issue?
The water treatment facilities that provide drinking water the Chesterfield County perform multiple tests on a regular basis. Such tests range from monitoring the quality of water in lake and river water sources to testing treated drinking water leaving the plant and arriving to a customer’s location. When a taste or odor issue is detected by the treatment plant or reported by customers, adjustments to plant treatment such as adding more activated carbon and optimizing filtration processes occurs along with additional testing. The county’s Department of Utilities also sends crews out to flush areas where customers report a taste and odor issue. Line flushes help to remove older water in the lines and replace with fresher tasting water.
- If a taste and odor issue occurs, how long until the issue is resolved?
Optimizing the treatment process at a water plant to remove taste and odor compounds can take several days or longer due to multiple factors. Such factors include the type and amount of odor or taste compound present, the amount of water being treated and adjusting water treatment chemical additives to remove the taste and odor compounds. In addition, it can take a week or longer for the now optimized treated water to work through the miles of pipes connecting the water plant to our customers.
- What can I do to improve the taste and odor of the water?
Customers can fill a pitcher or similar container with tap water and add some lemon juice (2-3 drops per 8-ounce glass) and chill the water in the refrigerator. The lemon juice and colder temperatures helps to balance out the taste and odor. In addition, using a drinking water filter that contains activated carbon can reduce odors and improve the taste.
- Who do I contact if I have questions or concerns about my water?
If you have further questions or concerns about the quality of your water, contact the Chesterfield County Utilities Laboratory at 804-748-1310, option 2.
- Is my tap water tested?
Chesterfield County’s state-certified water quality laboratory tests the water from tap water samples collected throughout the county daily. The Addison-Evans Water Production and Laboratory Facility performs an average of 58,000 tests per year. Our consistent, high-quality water meets or exceeds all applicable federal, state and county requirements. We publish an annual Water Quality Report that may answer many of your questions.
- Why does my tap water taste like chlorine?
Chlorine, in the form of chloramine, is added to the water at the treatment plant to disinfect the water and ensure the water stays free of harmful bacteria in the miles of pipelines to your residence. The concentration range depends on where you reside relative to the treatment plant and the time of year. The very low, safe and effective chlorine levels in the water range from about 1.0 to 4.0 parts per million, or ppm.
- What is the pH of my water?
The natural water’s pH can vary, so the pH or acidity of the water is controlled at the treatment plant using lime to make sure that corrosion control treatment works properly and the water coming out of your tap is consistent. The pH in our distribution system ranges from 7.0 to 8.0 pH units, which is in the neutral range.
- What is the hardness of my water?
Hardness is determined by the concentrations of dissolved calcium and magnesium carbonates naturally occurring in the water. Hardness is measured by the lab in milligrams per liter, or mg/L, which is equivalent to parts per million, or ppm. Our naturally soft water is in the range of 40 to 70 ppm, which is 2.0 to 4.0 grains per gallon.
- What is the pinkish residue on my bathroom fixtures?
A pinkish film or residue is most likely an airborne bacterium called Serratia marcescens. These bacteria are not present in the water supply. They are naturally present in the environment and may appear during new construction or remodeling work due to the dust and dirt stirred up by these activities. They thrive on moisture, dust and phosphates. The best way to control these bacteria is to clean the effected surfaces with bleach, or a cleanser containing bleach, and keep the area as dry as possible.
- Why does my water look cloudy or white?
The cloudy water is most likely caused by tiny air bubbles in the water similar to the bubbles in carbonated soft drinks. After a while, the bubbles rise to the top and escape into the air. This type of cloudiness occurs most often in the winter when the relatively cold water leaves the treatment system and travels through pipes in the cold ground to your warmer home.
When you open your tap, the water is no longer trapped inside the pipes, and the oxygen immediately begins to escape or bubble to the surface. The technical term for this naturally occurring phenomenon is “off gassing.” The air bubbles are harmless, do not affect water quality, and will go away on their own.
- The aerators on our faucets are clogged with white particles. What is it?
These particles are most likely pieces of plastic from the hot water tank. There is a plastic part called the dip tube (cold water inlet tube) which deteriorates or fragments over time. These fragments flow out of the tank, through the hot water outlet and throughout a home or building’s plumbing, clogging aerators and shower-heads.
The fragments will float in a glass of water. This is not a water quality issue. A new dip tube may have to be installed or the hot water tank replaced. In some water supplies with hard water, white particles could be calcium carbonate deposits. These deposits are not an issue with Chesterfield County’s naturally soft water.
- Why does the water in my bathroom sink smell like rotten eggs?
This common situation is most likely due to an actual drain odor. The rotten egg, sewer or sulfur smell, which is usually stronger in the morning and confined to a particular location, is a typical signs of drain odor coming from the u-shaped trap under the sink. As soon as the hot or cold water is turned on, the air-water interface in the trap is displaced and the odors are immediately released. The odor goes away when the water is run, but returns later.
To remedy this situation, carefully pour one cup of bleach down the affected drain and wait 15 to 20 minutes without using the water. Then, flush thoroughly with cold water. This treatment can be repeated, as needed.
- What is lead?
Lead is a common naturally occurring metallic element that can be found in air, soil and water. It is also a powerful toxin that is harmful to human health. Lead was commonly used in gasoline and paint until the 1970s and is still sometimes found in products such as ceramics, batteries, ammunition, and cosmetics.
- What is its history in water plumbing?
Lead was used for centuries in plumbing because of its pliability and resistance to leaks; in fact, lead’s chemical symbol, Pb, is derived from the Latin word for plumbing. In 1986, the U.S. Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to prohibit the use of pipes, solder or flux that were not “lead free.” At the time “lead free” was defined as solder and flux with no more than 0.2% lead and pipes with no more than 8%. In 2014, the maximum allowable lead content was reduced from not more than 8% to not more than a weighted average of 0.25% of the wetted surface of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures.
- Do the mains and service lines in Chesterfield County contain lead?
The drinking water distribution system in Chesterfield County does not contain lead mains nor lead service lines. We are very fortunate to have newer mains and service lines than many areas across the U.S. and have a progressive repair / replace policy to ensure the integrity of our drinking water infrastructure.
- Why is lead a health risk?
Lead is a toxic metal that can cause immediate health effects at high doses and long-term health effects if it builds up in the body over many years. Lead can cause brain and kidney damage in addition to adverse effects on the blood and vitamin D metabolism. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable because the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to central and peripheral nervous system damage, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells. While people are more commonly exposed to lead through paint, soil and dust, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates infants who consume mixed formula can receive 40% to 60% of their exposure to lead from drinking water.
- How do I know whether my drinking water contains lead?
Because it is colorless and tasteless, lead is not readily apparent in water. In fact, the only way to know for certain whether your drinking water contains lead is to have your water tested by a certified laboratory. In Chesterfield you can contact the utilities department’s quality assurance coordinator at 804-748-1310 option 2 for information and to discuss potential water testing (including lead).
- How does lead get into drinking water?
Lead is not present when water flows from the treatment facility, nor is it present in the water mains running beneath Chesterfield County. However, in some older homes, lead may be present in the pipe connecting the home to the water system, commonly known as a service line, or in the home plumbing. Lead in service pipes, plumbing or fixtures can dissolve, or particles can break off into water and end up at the tap.
- How much lead in water is too much?
Lead can be harmful even at very low levels and can accumulate in our bodies over time, so wherever possible steps should be taken to reduce or eliminate your household’s exposure. While risks vary based on individual circumstances and the amount of water consumed, no concentration of lead is considered “safe.” Households with pregnant women, infants, or young children are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead at low levels.
- What can I do to reduce or eliminate lead from my drinking water?
The best way to remove risks of lead in water is to completely replace all sources of lead. But there are also steps you can take right away to reduce lead levels in your water:
- Run the Tap Before Use – Lead levels are likely at their highest when water has been sitting in the pipe for several hours. Clear this water from your pipes by running the cold water for several minutes. This allows you to draw fresh water from the main. The utilities department’s quality assurance coordinator, who can be reached at 804-748-1310 option 2, or a certified plumber can help you assess the right length of time. You can use this water on house plants or to flush toilets.
- Clean Aerators – Aerators are small attachments at the tips of faucets which regulate the flow of water. They can accumulate small particles of lead in their screens. It’s a good idea to remove your aerators at least monthly and clean them out.
- Use Cold Water for Cooking and Drinking – Always cook and prepare baby formula with cold water, because hot water dissolves lead more quickly, resulting in higher levels of lead.
- Filter the Water – Many home water filters are effective at removing lead. If you purchase a filter, make sure it is certified for lead removal and that you maintain it properly.
- Are there special steps I should take to protect my developing baby, infant or young children?
Households with pregnant women, infants or young children should be especially aware of the potential for lead exposure through drinking water. If you suspect there may be lead in your home plumbing, consider having your water tested at a certified laboratory by contacting the utilities department’s quality assurance coordinator at 804-748-1310 option 2. If lead is detected, consider purchasing a filter certified for lead removal or using an alternate source of water until the problem is corrected. Babies and young children are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead at low levels. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates infants who consume mixed formula can receive 40% to 60% of their exposure to lead from drinking water.
- Is it safe to shower in water that contains lead?
Lead is not absorbed through the skin. Bathing or showering in water containing lead is not considered a health risk.
- What does Chesterfield County Utilities do to protect my household from lead?
Our department is proactive in protecting our customers. To prevent lead from dissolving into water from lead service lines or home plumbing, we adjust the water’s chemistry at the treatment plant to minimize the potential for corrosion. This process is known as corrosion control. We sample water at homes considered to be high risk to ensure our corrosion control remains effective. Although corrosion control can reduce risks, the best way to assure your home is safe from lead exposure from drinking water is to remove the potential sources of lead.
- I’m in a new house, am I at risk?
Homes built after 1986 are required to use plumbing materials with substantially reduced lead content. If you are concerned, consider having your water tested by contacting the utilities department’s quality assurance coordinator at 804-748-1310 option 2.
- Do all home filters and other water treatment devices remove lead?
No, if you purchase a water filter or home treatment device it is important to make sure it is independently certified for lead removal and that it is maintained properly. Find out more on filter certification at the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) website.
- Can my pets drink water with lead?
Lead can impact animals the same way it does humans. Because domestic animals consume a relatively high volume of water relative to their body weight, pet owners with lead in their home plumbing may want to take precautions.
- Is water the only source of lead in homes and businesses?
No, lead in drinking water generally represents only about 20% of total exposure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, drinking water can account for more than half of lead exposure in children because of their lower body weight.