Frequently Asked Questions
Where does Madison’s water come from?
Why is some drinking water stored in large tanks high above the ground?
Madison has an ample and reliable supply of water, so why should I conserve?
Can I make a bill payment by phone?
Can I pay my bill online?
How do I open an account or ask questions about my account?
Can I be billed monthly?
I had a high bill because of a toilet leak; can I get an adjustment?
How does the Madison Water Utility set its rates?
Is my tap water safe to drink?
What is the best choice of drinking water: bottled or tap water?
Why is the water discolored sometimes?
What is Madison's “water hardness” and how does it affect me?
If I am on a salt-restricted diet, will the sodium in drinking water hurt me?
Why do we use chlorine and fluoride in our water?
Why does drinking water often look cloudy when first taken from a faucet and then clear up?
What is wrong if I smell a rotten egg odor when I run water in the house?
What is the white residue on pots and pans after I boil water?
Q: Where does Madison’s water come from?
A: Madison drinking water comes from a deep sandstone aquifer, an underground rock formation where water collects in small spaces among the rocks. Groundwater originates as rain or snow, soaks into the ground, and is naturally filtered through layers of soil and rock before replenishing the aquifer. The Madison water system consists of 23 wells, 31 reservoirs, and 840 miles of interconnected pipes.
Q: Why is some drinking water stored in large tanks high above the ground?
A: This type of water storage ensures that water pressure and water volume are stabilized. The Madison Water Utility also has ground level reservoirs that ensure a sufficient water supply to fight fires, even if the electricity that normally pumps water is turned off.
Q: Madison has an ample and reliable supply of water, so why should I conserve?
A: If the utility has to meet rising customer demand every year to accommodate population growth, it must continually increase its pumping and delivery capacity, and it could eventually need to find additional sources of water. Each increase in capacity and supply means increased costs to develop and operate; these, in turn, eventually lead to an increase in customer rates. Therefore, it is less expensive for everyone to invest in water conservation than in increased supply.
Additional benefits of water conservation include improved water quality, a reduced burden on surface water quality since less wastewater is generated, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions due to reduced energy spent on water pumping. Plus, the customer sees a smaller water bill.
Q: Can I make a bill payment by phone?
A: Not at this time, but if you wish to make a payment by using a credit or debit card you may do so online at www.madisonpay.com.
Q: Can I pay my bill online?
A: You can pay your bill online at www.madisonpay.com.
Q: How do I open an account or ask questions about my account?
A: You may contact our billing office at 266-4641 between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Q: Can I be billed monthly?
A: A customer who wishes to prepay toward the next scheduled billing may do so. Please contact Water Utility Customer Service to arrange to make monthly or quarterly payments in advance. Call (608) 266-4641.
Q: I had a high bill because of a toilet leak; can I get an adjustment?
A: Yes, after the leak is repaired we will take a reading to verify your use is back to normal and then make an adjustment. You still have to pay for the wasted water but we will calculate it at a lower rate for both water and sewer.
Q: How does the Madison Water Utility set its rates?
A: Water rates are set by the state Public Service Commission through rate cases in which the utility requests pricing to cover its costs of providing the service.
Q: Is my tap water safe to drink?
To ensure the wholesomeness of our water, we test the water continuously. In fact, we conduct more tests and on many more substances than required by regulation. At the City of Madison Water Utility, we take drinking water samples daily to confirm the absence of harmful substances. We use only the necessary chemicals to treat the water, including chlorine, to kill any viruses or bacteria that could be present in groundwater. A tiny (and harmless) amount of chlorine is left in the water to ensure its continued safety as it travels to you.
In addition to our own testing, we also consult with the Public Health Department, the state Department of Natural Resources, and the state Laboratory of Hygiene. For more information, call our water quality department at 266-4654.
Q: What is the best choice of drinking water: bottled or tap water?
A: The answer is clear: tap water! That's because our water is of excellent quality,
strictly monitored, and affordable.
When we look at issues such as quality, monitoring and affordability, we see that bottled water doesn't always make the grade. For instance, some brands may be of excellent quality, but others can have inferior quality or they may be simply taken from municipal water supplies. And all bottled waters are expensive. For the price of one small bottle of water, you would be able to buy about 680 gallons of Madison tap water.
Another important fact: there are fewer government regulations to guide the bottled water industry. Monitoring requirements aren't as stringent as are those for tap water. For quality, consistency and affordability, tap water wins every time.
Q: Why is the water discolored sometimes?
A: Groundwater by its nature will contain dissolved minerals, including naturally occurring iron and/or manganese. These minerals settle out of the water and accumulate as sediment in the water mains running under Madison’s streets. Water Utility staff regularly flush the mains through fire hydrants to remove this accumulated sediment, and that action—or any other disturbance such as fire suppression, a main break, contractor work, or a flow test—can stir up sediment that results in discolored water, if you use water during or immediately following the disturbance. If your water becomes discolored, run a cold water tap in the basement at full force for 20 minutes or so, or until the water clears. Usually it clears in just a few minutes. If it doesn’t, call the utility Water Quality hotline at 266-4654 or 266-4665 (24-hour operator).
Q: What is Madison's “water hardness” and how does it affect me?
A: Madison's tap water is considered to be “very hard,” because of the minerals such as calcium and magnesium in the rock formations from which we draw water. This water contains 18-20 grains of hardness per gallon. There are no harmful health effects associated with these minerals (in fact, some believe they are beneficial), but measuring them does provide a guideline as to how water use may be affected. For example, hard water does result in more scale buildup and you need to use more soap and detergents. If you choose a water softener, it's recommended that a separate, unsoftened supply of water be kept for cooking and drinking. Ion exchange water softeners remove hardness by replacing the calcium and magnesium with sodium salt.
Also, when you buy a new appliance, such as a dishwasher, the manufacturer often makes reference to water hardness. This is because hard water can cause automatic dishwashers to leave film on dishes and build-up of minerals on mechanical parts. It may also cause washing machines to leave residue on articles of clothing and scales that clog water pipes or foul appliances such as water heaters.
Q: If I am on a salt-restricted diet, will the sodium in drinking water hurt me?
A: The short answer is no. For an individual on a restrictive sodium diet who consumed two liters of water daily, the
City of Madison’s drinking water would account for no more than 4.7 to 14.1% of the allotted
sodium budget, dependent upon the severity of the restriction (1,500 to 500 mg per day). For more detailed information, click here.
Q: Why do we use chlorine and fluoride in our water?
A: The high quality deep aquifer supplying our drinking water requires little treatment. However, chlorine is used to kill bacteria and viruses that could be found in the water. It's considered one of the most important tools for disinfecting drinking water. It's actually been in use for more than 100 years and is responsible for ending disease epidemics that were widespread prior to its use.
Fluoride has been added to treated water since 1948 as a City policy to reduce the risk of dental cavities. The Public Health Department advises the Water Utility about setting the fluoride target level for treated water to maximize dental health benefits and minimize concerns about over exposure. Chlorine and fluoride are key ingredients to water quality and public health and safety.
Q: Why does drinking water often look cloudy when first taken from a faucet and then clear up?
A: The cloudy water is caused by tiny air bubbles in the water similar to the gas bubbles in 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 is cold.
Q: What is wrong if I smell a rotten egg odor when I run water in the house?
A: The smell of rotten eggs indicates the presence of hydrogen sulfide. The odor originates as sewer gas being displaced from the drain when the tap is run. A simple test is to fill a glass of water, take it to a room that has no water, and then sniff the water. If the water no longer has an odor, the drain is the source. A remedy for cleaning the drain is to pour one-quarter cup baking soda down the drain and follow it with a cup of vinegar. When the fizzing stops, flush the drain with boiling water.
If your tap water has an unusual taste or odor, call the Water Utility at 266-4654.
Q: What is the white residue on pots and pans after I boil water?
A: Madison tap water is very “hard.” (See the question above.) Groundwater sources contain significant amounts of calcium and magnesium hardness, and Madison is no exception. The minerals in the water leave a conspicuous white residue or spots when water is boiled or evaporates. This residue is primarily calcium and is not harmful to human health. Even if you have a water softener, in most homes the kitchen cold water tap is plumbed to receive unsoftened water that still has calcium and magnesium.
Public Service Commission's Wisconsin Water Fact Sheet (pdf).