Red Water Issues and Solutions Public Works - Home | Departments

The City of Topeka periodically experiences red water in our water distribution system. This red, or rust colored water occurs in areas of the city with unlined cast iron water mains. Unlined cast iron mains were used in Topeka until the mid 1950's when the city began using cement mortar-lined or plastic mains.

Unlined water mains rust over time through a natural oxidation process. Contributing to the problem can be an increase in salt levels in the Kansas River during low flow conditions. Increased concentrations come from rivers and creeks in salt-rich western Kansas that flow into the Kansas River. Salts such as sulfate and chloride are slightly corrosive and cause older unlined iron water mains to dissolve more iron into tap water.

Is Red Water Safe?

All water produced by the City of Topeka meets stringent guidelines set forth in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Iron is an important mineral and the human body easily discharges any excess. However, for individuals on a low iron diet, with hypertension, or who are mixing infant formula, bottled water may be an option.

Red Water Solutions

A short term low cost solution to the red water problem is to flush water mains where red water is occurring. Flushing water mains is not a long term solution. Once flushed, the pipe will produce clear water for a time. However, red water will eventually return.

The long term solution to red water comes at a higher financial cost. That solution is replacement of the older unlined cast iron water mains with cement mortar-lined or plastic pipe.

Water Main Replacement Program

In January, 1997, approximately 400 miles of the 767 miles of water mains throughout the City were unlined cast iron. Thirteen percent (52 miles) of those unlined cast iron water mains were critical or of a high priority for replacement. Of those mains considered critical, approximately 90% were replaced by the end of 2001.

Annually, the city is projecting a budget of approximately $1.5 million to replace nearly 10 miles of unlined cast iron water mains per year.

Water Main Replacement

The City of Topeka is replacing water mains in your neighborhood. The majority of water mains are located within the city's right-of-way running through your front yard or your neighbor's across the street.

The scope of water main replacements includes finishing any areas disturbed during construction of the new mains. All areas which have been disturbed by the contractor during construction must follow guidelines set forth in the latest edition of Standard Technical Specifications of the City of Topeka Engineering Division, Public Works Department.

During Main Replacement

During the process of replacing your water main, there will be considerable construction activity on your block. Contractor vehicles as well as large machinery will be traveling on your street, and some equipment may be stored on your street also.

Once construction in front of your house has been completed, there may be a delay before your yard is cleaned up. Delay time will be based on several factors including time of year, weather, other water mains being replaced in the surrounding neighborhood, and the service hookovers.

Yard Clean Up

Requirements for Finishing Disturbed Areas are located in Section 4, Article 10 of the Standard Technical Specifications of the City of Topeka Engineering Division, Public Works Department. Finishing areas disturbed during water main replacement is the task of the contractor. Responsibilities generally include seeding, fertilizing, compaction, and mulching of the seed bed. It is not the responsibility of the contractor or the City of Topeka to water or otherwise care for finished areas once they have been completed. Fescue grass seed will be seeded during the planting season.

Taking Care of Your Fescue Lawn

Planting season for fescue lawns is usually September to mid-October; however, seeds can be planted in the spring as well. Spring seeding should be done in March or April so the grass can become well established before hot weather. Local weather conditions are the best indicator to use when determining when to plant. Under good conditions, seeds germinate in 4-7 days.

  • Watering. It is your responsibility to water your newly planted fescue lawn. Fescue is relatively drought-tolerant, but needs to be watered during the summer to keep it green. For a newly seeded lawn, watering should be done every day or two depending upon the weather. It is important to apply water at a rate it can be absorbed by the soil. Under normal conditions, it should take approximately two hours to apply one inch of water.

  • Mowing. Fescue grows rapidly and requires frequent mowing to help it spread. Spring mowing can be greatly reduced by fertilizing in the fall and not during the spring. Tall fescue should be mowed often enough so that no more than 1 1/2 inches is removed at one time. For a healthy lawn, the Kansas State University Extension Service recommends leaving grass height at 2 1/2 inches in the spring and fall and 3 1/2 inches in the summer.

Zoysia Yard Policy

Zoysia yards present a special problem since it can not be seeded. Often, residences with Zoysia yards request we lay Zoysia sod. Sodding is generally unacceptable because it greatly increases the project cost.

Zoysia plugging is more expensive than laying seed for Fescue. However, it is an effective way to re-establish a Zoysia yard.

The Kansas State University Extension Service recommends that Zoysia be plugged or sodded in May, June or July.

The City of Topeka's Policy for Zoysia Yards is as Follows:
Construction through Zoysia yards in May, June or July will be plugged by the contractor. Construction through Zoysia yards after July will be planted with fescue. We will then return in May or June of the following year and lay Zoysia sod. Once a yard is plugged or sodded with Zoysia, it is then the homeowners responsibility to make sure the yard is properly watered and mowed.

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