Yellow, Red Colored Tap Water Alarms Residents of Northern Israel

The color is due to use of desalinated water, says the Water Authority, and is not dangerous

A resident of the northern Israeli town of Sha'ab holding a glass of murky tap water.
Rami Shllush

Israel’s Water Authority admitted on Wednesday that the addition of desalinated water to the supply in parts of northern Israel is responsible for what consumers described as yellow and even red tap water.

Following consumer complaints about murky water, the authority explained that over the last few weeks it had augmented the natural water supply with desalinated water, due to the dry winter season.

When desalinated water, which has less minerals than natural water, comes into contact with old metal pipelines, which have been carrying “hard” water for years, it may dissolve the minerals and rust that coat the pipeline. The result is red or yellow water. The problem clears up over time, when the pipeline restabilizes and, according to the Water Authority, does not constitute a health hazard.

Consumers in the northern communities of Karmiel, Sha’ab, Shorashim and Yuvalim had been complaining that their water was running yellow and even red. The same problem was reported in other communities in the north but seems to have cleared up.

The authority suggests residents keep the tap running until the water runs clear. It may also reimburse those affected by the problem over an extended period of time and instructed local water companies to suspend billing affected residents.

Claiming their water is unusable, residents of Sha’ab, near Karmiel, last week demonstrated outside the Knesset. In response, Joint List Knesset member Dov Khenin tweeted, “Who of the ministers is prepared to drink yellow, stinking water? I brought Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz a bottle of tap-water from the village of Sha’ab whose residents protested today outside the Knesset about their water, which has been murky and undrinkable for a month and a half.”

In recent years, augmenting the local supply with desalinated water has created similar problems in Eilat, Kfar Sava, Ramat Hasharon and Rishon Letzion. When the problem persisted over time, consumers were reimbursed for their water bills. Those who have suffered from the problem for a long time should ask their local water company to test whether the water is potable, said the authority.

The Health Ministry commented that it had instructed people to run their taps until the water runs clear and not to drink water that isn’t clear. Testing for metals in the water found normal levels, other than an unusual finding of lead in one case – a tap in the teachers’ room at a school in Sha’ab. It is now prohibited to use that tap for drinking or cooking, the ministry said. The ministry also ordered the local water companies to wash down the pipelines, map and sample them and, if necessary, replace some of them.