Bowie Residents Complain of Brown, Smelly Tap Water

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Some residents in Bowie, Maryland, are dealing with brown, smelly water coming out of their faucets.

The city is aware of the issue, but residents say it's getting increasingly worse.

“It's brown most of the time or discolored most of the time,” resident Matthew Gallagher said. “There is a smell. Some people have said it smells like paint thinner.”

He lives in the older northern part of Bowie, where the more than 60-year-old water system is aging. Hundreds of residents are impacted, according to the city. 

“If you’re washing clothes, especially the white clothes, will get stained,” Gallagher said.

He said the city gives them rust and iron stain remover for free to clean their clothes.

“I volunteer,” Bowie Public Works Director Jose Aldayuz said. “I'll go to their house and drink the water because I am not afraid of it. I know. I look at the quality test.”

Aldayuz said the water is tested regularly, is safe to drink and the brown color comes from tuberculation -- small mounds of corrosion, or rust, in the cast iron pipes. They have a short-term solution.

“We still get complaints, and then every time that we have a number of complaints, if the number is significant, then we send, deploy, a unit to flush the hydrants in that particular area,” Aldayuz said.

Gallagher said the water in his neighborhood is so brown, when they drain the hydrants, it stains the gutters.

“We’re not like Flint, Michigan,” at-large Council member Ingrid Scott Harrison said. “As I said earlier, the water is safe to drink.”

“We know the water is not safe for human consumption no matter what the test says,” Gallagher said.

Harrison said Bowie's long-term plan includes replacing the water pipes, but they need $14 million to begin to tackle the 90 miles of old pipes.

“We have an aging system, so it will take some time and money to make sure that those pipes get replaced, and we're working to do that,” Harrison said.

That could take years.

City spokespeople say they are considering trying to access money made available through the federal Build Back Better infrastructure bill. They are speaking with the city's lobbyist on how to access those or other funds to accelerate the needed work. 

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