Skip to main content

Water/Sewer FAQ's

Water Questions


Taste & Odor:

1. Why does my drinking water have a taste or smell? Will this smelly water make me sick?

The three most common reasons for bad tasting or water that smells are:

  • A funny taste can come from the chlorine that is added to the water to kill germs.
  • A rotten-egg odor in some well water (not WMWA-supplied water) is caused by a smelly chemical – hydrogen sulfide – dissolved in the water.
  • Algae and tiny fungi which grow in surface water sources may give off nontoxic chemicals that may cause discernible tastes and odors in drinking water. Different algae cause different tastes and odors such as – grassy, swampy, or fishy, for example- and other certain fungi can cause an earthy-musty taste.

These common substances that can cause taste or odors in drinking water are not normally contaminants that could affect your health. However, chlorinated water contains reaction products of the chlorination process which are regulated under The Safe Drinking Water Act. The U.S. EPA  and water supplier research organizations are regularly reviewing such issues.

2. What can I do if my drinking water tastes “funny”?

Five suggestions are:

  • Call the Williamsport Municipal Water Authority at 570-323-6148, to report any unusual taste or odor.
  • Store some drinking water in a loosely capped glass container in the refrigerator (warm drinking water has more taste than cold drinking water). Although some plastic bottles are okay for storing drinking water in the refrigerator, some types of plastic will cause a taste in water. If you have this experience, try using a different kind of plastic container.
  • Use an electric mixer or blender to aerate the drinking water for a few minutes. This mixing will remove some of the bad taste but not all of it. Remember that to be smelled, the chemicals that cause the smell must leave the water, get into the air, and enter your nose. When you beat or blend the water, you hasten the chemicals leaving the water and will get rid of some of the odor-causing chemicals prior to drinking the water. Then there are fewer chemicals to smell when you do drink.
  • Boiling tap water for five minutes should remove most of the chlorine taste. After the water cools, refrigerate it. Remember that once the disinfectant is removed, the water must be treated like any other food. Keep it covered and use it as quickly as possible.
  • Add a squeeze of lemon juice to refrigerated drinking water.

3. Drinking water may look cloudy when first taken from a faucet and then it clears up. Why is that?

The cloudy water is caused usually by tiny air bubbles in the water similar to the gas bubbles in beer and carbonated soft drinks. After a while, the bubbles rise to the top and are gone. This type of cloudiness occurs more often in the winter, when the drinking water from the water main is cold and can hold more dissolved air. When it warms up, it releases the air.

4. What is “hard” water?

“Hardness” in drinking water is caused by two nontoxic chemicals (usually called minerals) – calcium and magnesium. Water is said to be “hard” because making lather or suds for washing is hard (difficult) to do. Thus, cleaning with hard water is hard (difficult). Water containing little calcium or magnesium is called soft water. WMWA water has a low to moderate level of calcium, below the level at which it would be considered “hard”. The WMWA adds a small amount of calcium to help control the corrosive properties of the water.

5. What is that white stuff in my coffeepot and on my shower head and glass shower door? How can I get rid of it?

When water is heated or allowed to evaporate, minerals (mostly calcium carbonate) dissolved in water may be left behind as a powdery scale. These minerals are white and may accumulate in coffeepots and on showerheads and glass shower doors.

To remove these minerals, fill the coffeepot with a vinegar solution and let it sit overnight, or soak the showerhead overnight in a plastic bowl filled with vinegar. NOTE: Rinse the coffeepot or showerhead thoroughly after treatment and before use. Pouring the excess hot liquid out of your coffeepot when you are finished with it will help somewhat in preventing this problem.

White spots on glass shower doors are difficult to remove with vinegar because the spots dissolve very slowly. A better idea is to prevent the spots from forming by wiping the glass door with a damp sponge or towel after each shower.


6. What activity in my home uses the most water?

Toilet flushing is by far the largest single use of water in a home. Most toilets use from 4 to 6 gallons (15 to 23 liters) of water for each flush. On an average, a dishwasher uses about 50 percent less water than the amount used when you wash and rinse dishes by hand, as long as the dishes are not pre-rinsed and only if full loads are washed in the dishwasher.

Without counting lawn watering, typical percentages of water use for a family of four are:

  • Toilet flushing – 40%
  • Bath and shower – 32%
  • Laundry – 14%
  • Dishwashing – 6%
  • Cooking and drinking – 5%
  • Bathroom sink – 3%

7. Which uses more water, a tub bath or a shower?

That depends on many factors: how big your tub is, how long you shower, how fast the water comes out of your showerhead, whether or not you turn off the water while soaping, and so forth. Answer this question yourself by closing the drain when you shower and see if you get a tub full of water. Please do not try this in a shower stall!

8. I leave the water running while I brush my teeth. Does this waste much water?

You bet! Allowing the water to run uses about 4 to 6 gallons (20 to 25 liters) of water needlessly every time you brush. Turning off the water when you are not using it will save water and save you money.

Another way many people unthinkingly waste water is while they are waiting for the hot water to come to a shower, tub, or sink. Catching this water to use for plant watering is a good conservation tip.

9. Why are there aerators on home water faucets?

When mixed with water, tiny air bubbles from the aerator prevent the water from splashing too much. Because the water flow is less, often half the regular flow, aerators also help conserve water.

10. Many water quality problems in the home are cured by flushing the system. Isn’t that a waste of water?

Yes, but you can avoid losing this water by catching it in a container and using it for plant and garden watering. Even if you don’t do this, strictly speaking the flush water is not wasted. A true waste of water is a use that gives no benefit, like leaving the water running while you brush your teeth, setting your lawn sprinkler so the water lands on your driveway or street, or flushing the toilet to get rid of a tissue. Flush water does provide a benefit if it clears the water or brings hot water to your tub. Try to use your flush water, but if you can’t don’t feel too bad. This water has served a useful purpose.

11. My water faucet drips. Should I bother to fix it?

Yes. Drips waste a precious product and this waste should be stopped, even though the dripping water may not register on your water meter. To find out how much water you’re wasting, put an 8-ounce (236 milliliter) measuring cup (or anything that will let you measure 8-ounces) under the drip and find out how many minutes it takes to fill it up. Divide the filling time into 90 (90 ÷ minutes to fill) to get the gallons of water wasted each day.

As an example, if you have a faucet that dripped 60 times a minute (once each second) this adds up to over 3 gallons (12 liters) each day or 1,225 gallons (4,630 liters) each year, enough to fill more than twenty-two 55-gallon (210 liter) drums, just from one dripping faucet. This leak would fill the 8-ounce (236-milliliter) measuring cup in less than 30 minutes.

12. How should I water my lawn to avoid wasting water?

Water your lawn for long periods a couple of times each week, rather than every day. This allows deep penetration of the water. An inch a week is a good rule of thumb, but this varies for different grasses and different parts of the country. Check with your local garden store. If you want to find out exactly how long to water, put some large cans or jars (peanut butter jars will work) around your lawn and see how long you have to run your sprinkler to fill the jars with the right amount of water.

Water early in the morning to avoid excessive evaporation; it is usually less windy then. Night watering may promote lawn disease. Use a sprinkler that makes large drops, because small drops evaporate faster. Watering your lawn with a hand-held hose is a waste of both your time and your water, although it might be okay for a small garden.

Try to avoid watering paved areas and don’t use your hose to wash sidewalks or driveways. Both of these practices waste a lot of water.

13. What can I do to conserve water and where can I find additional information?

American Water Works Association Information Website at

Straight Talk on Water Conservation

As a society, we have become more and more environmentally conscious and better informed about the effect our lifestyles can have on the world around us. Yet, the demand for our most valuable natural resource—drinking water—continues to grow while local supplies can be threatened by drought conditions. Only one percent of the earth’s water is available for human consumption and yet, according to the latest U.S. Geological Survey, the United States uses 408 billion gallons a day. On the industrial level, numerous water-saving technologies have been employed to help conserve water. And while strong progress has been made, there are several simple steps that consumers can take to help preserve our water supply for future generations.

What can you do?

  • Water your lawn early in the morning or at night to avoid excess evaporation.
  • Do not over water your lawn.
  • Use lawn chemicals only when necessary.
  • Fully load the dishwasher and clothes washer before running.
  • When washing dishes by hand, or when brushing your teeth, do not leave the water running.
  • Repair dripping faucets and leaky toilets. Dripping faucets can waste up to 2,000 gallons of water each year in the average home. Leaky toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons per day.
  • If you have a swimming pool, use a cover. By doing so, you can cut the evaporation of water by 90 percent.
  • Use a broom rather than a hose to clean sidewalks or driveways.
  • Defrost frozen food in the refrigerator or in a microwave instead of running hot water over the food.
  • Do not pour toxic chemicals (such as cleaning products, motor oil, weed-killers, or paints) down the drain. Dispose of them properly.

Together, we share in the benefits of some of the safest drinking water in the world, and it is incumbent upon us all to protect this valuable natural resource for future generations. By making simple changes in our daily routines, we can feel confident that we are doing our part.


14. How does a water company detect a major leak in the distribution piping system?

A major leak can be detected by:

  • Visual detection (water on ground) by water company employees who work in the field.
  • A loss in pressure that can be detected by the water company and customers.
  • Reports by public-minded citizens.

Once a leak is suspected, its precise location is determined by water utility personnel. Sensitive listening devices are used to detect the sound of the leaking water underground.

Stopping leaks is important to the Williamsport Municipal Water Authority because leaks waste water, resulting in higher operating costs. The Williamsport Municipal Water Authority doesn’t get paid for the water that is lost to leaks, but may pass its cost along to the customers. The national average for water lost from leaks is 15 percent, although most suppliers try to keep such losses to around 10 percent. Gas companies only lose about 5 percent of their product.

Any leakage that occurs on your service line is your responsibility and must be repaired at your own expense. Prompt repair is to your benefit, because as long as the pipe is leaking, your water bill could be higher.

15. What are the causes of low water pressure and should low water pressure concern me?

Temporary low pressure can be caused by heavy water use in your area – lawn watering, a water main break, fighting a nearby fire, and so on. Lower pressure may be the result of the location of your home – on a hill or far from the pumping station – or home water pipes that are too small, or have a lot of scale in them, leaving little room for the water to flow. This is more common in older homes.

Low pressure may be more than just a nuisance. The water system depends on pressure to keep out any contamination. If the pressure drops, the possibility of pollution entering the drinking water increases. You should report any sudden or unusual drop in water pressure to the Williamsport Municipal Water Authority.


Federal Regulations:

16. What federal legislation protects the quality of drinking water?

In the United States, the Safe Drinking Water Act (administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), first passed in 1974 and expanded and strengthened in 1986 and 1996, protects the quality of drinking water.

17. How do federal regulatory agencies choose the standard for a chemical in drinking water?

Because rats and mice digest their food the same way humans do, toxic chemicals affect them in the same way they do humans. Therefore, scientists at the National Toxicology Program of the federal government feed these animals a chemical in question for a two-year period to determine its effects. From this information and using a safety factor, a drinking water standard based on “reasonable risk” is determined. For most potentially cancer-causing chemicals, reasonable risk is defined as follows: If 1 million people drank water for a period of 70 years with the amount of chemical in it equal to the standard, no more than one additional person would probably get cancer from the drinking water – a very small risk.


18. How can I find out if the Authority watershed is open for hiking or biking?

When possible, information may be posted on this site.  However, please contact the business office at 570-323-6148 for questions regarding the use of the watershed.

Sewer Questions



1. What if my sewage backs up in my basement?

Sewage backups may be the result of a plugged owner’s lateral or a blockage or surcharging in the main sewer. The Williamsport Sanitary Authority (WSA) operates and maintains the sanitary sewers within the City of Williamsport, Loyalsock & Woodward Townships. In the event that a property owner has a sewer backup, we request that you first call us to determine if the main sewer line is blocked and is the cause of the problem. We will promptly respond to your call, and if the problem is in the sewer main, you will save the time and expense of having a plumber work on the property owner’s sewer lines or lateral.

The WSA cannot be responsible for work authorized by others that is not useful in solving the owner’s problem. We request your cooperation in these types of situations.

Please note that the WSA is only responsible for sanitary sewers in the City of Williamsport, Loyalsock & Woodward Townships. If you live in a surrounding municipality, please call the public works department of your municipality for assistance.

2. I have an odor in my basement, what do I do?

In addition to sewer back-ups, you may experience different types of odors coming from your sewer lines. Besides sanitary sewer line backups, this could also indicate the lack of a water trap on your lateral or other potential problems such as broken laterals or collapsed sewer mains.

3. Who is responsible for the sewerage collection systems in each municipality?

The WSA provides service to customers located within the City of Williamsport, Loyalsock & Woodward Townships and is responsible for operating and maintaining all sanitary sewer lines within these boundaries.

In addition, the WSA serves as the billing agency for some of the outlying Boroughs and Townships. Those communities including: Old Lycoming Township, Lycoming Township, Armstrong Township and the Boroughs of South Williamsport and DuBoistown, each are responsible for operating and maintaining their own sanitary lines.

The City of Williamsport is responsible for storm sewers within the city.

Inflow and Infiltration: 

4. What are inflow and infiltration?

Inflow and infiltration are terms used to describe the leakage or introduction of groundwater and stormwater into the sanitary sewer system.

Inflow is storm water that is discharged into the sewer system through improper connections, such as downspouts and basement sump pumps. (Discharges from sump pumps that pump only laundry water or other sanitary wastes are sanitary sewage, not inflow.)

Infiltration is groundwater that enters the sewer system through leaks in sewer pipes and house laterals.

All of this inflow and infiltration water is called “clear water” (although it may be dirty) to distinguish it from sanitary sewage.

5. Why is Inflow and Infiltration water a problem?

“Clear” water belongs in storm sewers or on the surface of the ground, and not in the sanitary sewers. When clear water gets into the sanitary sewers, it must be treated like sanitary waste. Too much storm and clear water often overloads the sewers and causes sewer backups when it rains. It also may cause overflows from the sewers to streams.

6. What is a sanitary sewer?

A sanitary sewer is designed solely to transport wastewater from sanitary fixtures inside your house or place of business. Sanitary fixtures include toilets, sinks, bathtubs, showers and lavatories. The sanitary sewer pipe carrying sewage from the house property is called the owner’s lateral, and the main sewer, usually in the street, is the WSA public sewer main.

7. What is a storm sewer?

A storm sewer is a pipe designed to carry rainwater away. Storm sewers are normally much larger than sanitary sewers because they are designed to carry much larger amounts of water. Drainage ditches and swales perform the same function in many neighborhoods. In the City of Williamsport, the City, not the WSA, is responsible for the storm sewer system.

8. What is an improper connection to the sanitary sewer system?

An improper connection permits water from sources other than sanitary fixtures to enter the sanitary sewer system. Storm and other clear water should be going to the storm sewer or allowed to soak into the ground without entering the sanitary sewer.

9. What are different types of improper sanitary sewer connections?

Some examples of improper connections include downspouts, groundwater sump pumps, foundation drains, drains from window wells, and outdoor basement stairwells and drains from driveways.

10. Where should the water from downspouts, groundwater sump pumps, and/or other clear water sources be directed?

WSA Regulations and the City of Williamsport Plumbing Code require this water to be discharged to storm sewers or aboveground drainage ditches or curb areas.

11. Why is it important for everyone to remove improper connections?

Removing improper connections will significantly reduce the flow of clear water to the sanitary sewer system. This will reduce the possibility of basement flooding due to overloaded sanitary sewers and lessen the amount of water that has to be treated.

12. How can overloaded sanitary sewers cause basement flooding?

The water level in an overloaded sewer is at a higher elevation than normal. If the home has sanitary fixtures or floor drains that are below this higher, overload level, water can flow backward through the sanitary sewer lines into the basement.

13. Do improper connections really contribute large amounts of clear water to the sanitary sewer system?

Yes, and here’s why: An eight-inch sanitary sewer can handle domestic wastewater flow from up to 200 homes, but only eight sump pumps operating at full capacity, or six homes with downspouts connected to the sewers, will overload this same eight-inch line.

14. How does the WSA identify the sources of clear water entering the sanitary sewer system?

There are four major methods: dye testing, television inspection, smoke testing and flow monitoring.

By flushing water and dye into a suspicious downspout or sump pump, the WSA can determine sources of clear water entering the sewers by the color of the water as it flows through the pipes.

By guiding portable television cameras through the sewer pipes, the WSA can detect many more sources of clear water. Smoke testing for improper connections may also be used. The smoke is kept from entering buildings by the drain traps required on all sanitary fixtures and drains. It will emerge from the sewer standpipe vents on the roof of buildings – and from improper connections such as downspouts. It may also emerge from holes in the ground that lead to leaks in sewer lines.

By inserting special measuring devices into the sewer lines, the WSA can monitor the water flowing through them. If the flow increases during rainstorms, it is a sure sign of infiltration.

15. What happens when you detect a leak or an improper connection?

If the leak is in the public sewer main, the WSA will repair it.

If the source of the clear water is in a private lateral entering the public sewer, the WSA will notify the property owner. The property owner should consult with a licensed plumber to determine the source of the inflow or infiltration and to have the problem corrected.

The WSA will conduct a follow-up inspection. If the problem has not been corrected, the property owner and the City plumbing inspector will be notified by the WSA. This could result in further investigation as a violation of the WSA Rules and Regulations.

16. What can a property owner do to minimize sewage backups in the basement?

  • Consult with a licensed plumber to review your
    particular plumbing.
  • Consider the installation of a backwater check valve in the basement sewer line.
  • Consider the installation of a removable standpipe in the basement floor drain.
  • Consider the installation of a standpipe extension or a removable pipe cap on the washing machine drainpipe.

The WSA does not recommend the use of blow-up or expansion type pipe plugs for drains. The pressure in the sewer pipe can push them out.

17. I’ve never had basement flooding due to a sewer backup. Why should I remove my improper connection?

If your pluming pumps or drains clear water into the sanitary sewer, it may well be the cause of flooding in your neighbor’s basement. It may also cause the sewer to overflow, polluting the storm drains and streams.

18. Does the requirement to remove improper connections pertain only to certain sewer service areas?

No. PA Dept of Environmental Protection permits require the WSA, as well as other local governments and authorities, to stop the intrusion of clear water into all sanitary sewers.

Some old neighborhoods, however, have “combined” sewers, where sanitary sewage and stormwater are handled together. These systems were built in the days before sewage treatment plants when all the water was discharged into the streams and rivers, causing pollution problems. Today, all the combined WSA sewers flow into sewage treatment plants. Under new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, overflows from these combined sewers must be reduced to meet defined water quality standards. In response, the WSA has implemented combined sewer long-term control plans to deal with these wet weather discharges.


19. What is the Pretreatment Program?

The WSA’s EPA-approved pretreatment program controls industrial discharges and protects the collection and treatment systems from upsets, interference, hazardous materials, and contamination of the final digested solids. Industrial users which discharge high strength wastes pay an additional surcharge in addition to the normal flow volume charges. The WSA is proud of its compliance record in meeting state and federal discharge standards and its role in helping to maintain the quality of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

20. What can I safely pour down the sink or into the toilet?

Before you think about what you can throw away, think about what you are buying. Start by buying environmentally friendly products whenever possible. Next, try to buy just what you’ll need so you won’t have any or very much left over. Finally, call us to ask if the product or material in question in dangerous to discharge to the sewer. In general, it is unlawful to discharge flammable and toxic materials to the sewers. These would include gasoline, paint solvents, and chemicals. The safest course of action is not to put any of these types of materials into your sink or toilet.