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Water Treatment Frequently Asked Questions

Can I turn my water meter on or off?
No. A City employee will do this for you at no cost. The water meter is the property of the City and damages to the meter could be charged to you. Call the Utility Office at (618) 548-2222 or after hours, call the emergency number (618) 548-2232 and an on-call City employee will be notified and dispatched.

How do I check for a water leak?
Turn off all water in and outside of your house. DO NOT TURN OFF THE MAIN SHUT OFF VALVE.


1. Determining if there is a leak in the home.

a) Locate and look at your water meter and take notice if the small triangle on the face of the meter. Is it moving? If no water is being used, there would be no movement of this triangle. If the triangle is moving, there is a leak in the home or in your service line.

2. Locating the leak in the home.

From our experience, ninety percent of the leaks in residential plumbing systems are found at the toilet tank. To check for a leak do the following:

a) If you have checked the meter and the triangle is spinning, you then should go to all the toilet(s) in the property and shut them off at their shut off valves. Recheck the meter to determine if this stops the triangle from spinning. If it does, then proceed to turn on, one at a time, the toilet(s) at their shut off valves until you can determine which one is causing the triangle to spin.


b) Drop a few drops of food coloring in the tank (the back) of the toilet and wait a few minutes. Do not flush the toilet. If the food coloring
makes it's way down to the bowl of the toilet there is a leak. When the toilet is running properly there will be no food coloring in the bowl.

c) Check all faucets and spigots in or on the property to verify they are properly shut off.

d) Other possibilities for inside leaks are malfunctioning water softeners and humidifiers.

3. Locating the leak in your service line.

If you have completed the steps above and have found that you do not have any water running in side the property and all outside faucets are off shut off the main shut off valve coming into the building. If the triangle is still moving it is likely that you have a leak in your service line and you will need to contact a plumber to have this confirmed and repaired.


What do I do if I have low water pressure?
First, check the strainers (aerators) on the faucets. Make sure they are cleaned out. Next, check flow outside, at the hose bib (spigot). If you have a water softener, put it on bypass, and see if the pressure picks up. If none of these steps help you may need to check for a leak.

What are the Cities responsibilities for water line repairs?
The City is responsibility for the main lines, service lines from the main to the meter, and meter up to the point of the customer's service line connection to the meter.

What are the Cities responsibilities for sewer line problems?
The City is responsible for the sewer main lines. Service lateral lines, building service lines are the responsibility of the property owner.

What do I do if I have a sewer backup?
If a backup occurs in the building, first check to see if it backs up only when you use your facilities such as stool, tub, washer or sinks. If so, it is a possibility that you need a plumber. If you have sewage backing up when you have not used any of the facilities, it is a possibility that it is the City main.

Locate your building sewer line clean out, outside the house. Hint: Most cleanouts are in the line with the three or four inch vent pipe on the roof. (This is the biggest pipe on the roof). Open up the cap. See if there is any water in the clean out. This will tell you if the problem is inside. If a blockage in the private building sewer is the cause of the sewer backup, it is the responsibility of the property owner to clear the blockage. (The private building sewer extends from the interior plumbing of the building to where the pipe connects to the public sewer main, most frequently located at the center of the street or alley.) There are various private firms listed under septic tanks and systems – cleaning, sewer cleaners or sewer contractors, in the Yellow Pages who are equipped to remove the blockage from your private building sewer.

In the event that any of these actions are not successful in removing the blockage from the private building sewer, it is possible that the private building sewer has collapsed. This is true especially if your sewer was installed during the period from around 1950 through around 1970 when bituminous fiber pipe (commonly known “Orangeburg”) was installed in most residential areas. Orangeburg is a paper type pipe impregnated with tar and pressed together. It is susceptible to damage by tree roots and has a tendency to collapse with age. (The City does not have a record of what type of pipe material residences actually have!)

At this point the property owner may require the services of a qualified contractor to repair or replace the private building sewer.

If you feel that it is a blockage in the City main, call the Utility Department at (618) 548-2222 during working hours after hours call (618) 548-2232. Sewer Maintenance personnel will contact you as soon as possible, so be sure to leave your name, address and telephone number. (Emergency Dispatch (618) 548-2232 takes these calls after normal working hours)

The City Sewer Maintenance crews will first check the public sewer main to determine if it is causing your sewer backup. If the public main is operating normally, indications are that your private building sewer is the cause of the sewer backup. The emergency crew will immediately attempt to notify the property owner or the residents of this fact.

What can I do to prevent sewer backups?

If you have experienced backups from your building sewer, you might consider the installation of backup devices, which may be installed by your qualified plumbing company or contractor. They can assist you in the best methods and products.

Do not plant trees and shrubs over the private building sewer. The roots of trees, particularly Silver Maple and Willow trees will seek out the joints of the sanitary sewer and eventually clog the pipe.

Do not put large amounts of vegetable waste, such as pea pods and tomato skins, through the garbage disposal at one time. Even though these materials will go through the garbage disposal, they may clog the private building sewer. This also applies to large amounts of grease and paint, which will build up in the building sewer over a period of time eventually causing a blockage. Keep lint traps in the sinks, which drain washing machines in place. It is easier to clean out the lint traps than it is to clean out the building sewer.

If the building sewer serves a commercial establishment in which a grease trap is required, the grease trap should be cleaned periodically to prevent the solids from bypassing into the building sewer.

If you smell sewer gas, check to see if all sewer traps are filled with water and check to see if the cap on the sewer cleanout is on tight. If the gas smell persists, call your plumber and have your system checked.

There's an odor inside my house, what is it?
The odor could be from a natural gas leak or from sewer gasses. If it is a natural gas leak, leave immediately and contact the utility department at 618-548-2222 from a neighbors phone. If you smell sewer gas, check to see if all sewer traps are filled with water and check to see is the cap on the sewer cleanout is tight. If the trap is dry, pour at least 4 cups of water into the line to provide a seal in the U of the drain, preventing the sewer gas odors from entering the house. If the sewer gas smell persists, call your plumber and have your system checked.


Boil Orders

What is a Boil Order?
A boil order is a notification made by the water department in accordance with state regulations advising people that are served by the cities water distribution system that the water may be contaminated with bacteria.  This order advises people to boil the contaminated water prior to using it in order to make it safe for drinking.

Public notification of the boil order is made to ensure that every water user on the affected system has knowledge of the contamination.


State regulations mandate boil orders to ensure high-quality water in the event water pressure drops below 20 pounds per square inch (PSI) in any part of a distribution system a boil order would be issued.

In most cases, this happens when a water main is being repaired in your neighborhood.

Boil orders are issued as a precaution with a customer's best interests in mind. It's possible, but unlikely, bacteria can enter the water system when pressure in the line drops below 20 psi.


If the boil order affects a limited area, The City of Salem notifies customers by means of the local radio station.

Careful Sampling

All boil orders last a minimum of 36 hours, as required by state law.

Once the problem is fixed, water lines are flushed and samples are taken. Samples are taken from several sites within the affected area. The sites are spread out over the affected area. Samples are taken for chlorine, turbidity analysis and bacteriological analysis.

If samples are acceptable, the boil order is removed after 36 hours.

Water Usage

During boil orders, water usage for toilet flushing, clothes washing and cleaning does not require boiling.

Water used for drinking and food preparation requires boiling.

Boil Order Instructions

1.      Strain the water through a cheesecloth, coffee filter, or other clean, porous material to remove as many solid particles and dirt as possible.
2.      Bring the water to a rolling boil for 3 to 5 minutes.
3.      Let the water cool. Pour into a container that has been boiled or sanitized with chlorine bleach.
4.      To preserve the quality of the water, refrigerate the water until use.

Additional Information

City of Salem customers can get updates on boil orders by calling the City Hall at 548-2222 during regular business hours or after hours 548-2232.