Glossary - what makes up your water

Glossary - what makes up your water

Understanding what makes up your drinking water can be interesting and useful. To understand the report about your tap water, this helpful guide will explain the various elements and components that you’ll see listed in your report.

Alkalinity

Alkalinity is primarily a function of the carbonate, bicarbonate, and hydroxide concentration in the water. It's shown as the equivalent concentration of calcium carbonate, and the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines don’t have limits for health or aesthetics for it.

Aluminium - Acid Soluble

Aluminium may be present in water through natural leaching from soil and rock, however there’s no risk to health, and no health limits are set out in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. If excess aluminium salts (for example, alum) are left over after they’re used as part of the cleaning and treatment process this can sometimes alter the water’s appearance, making it a slightly milky colour. We closely monitor the treatment process to ensure aluminium - acid soluble levels are as low as possible. The national aesthetic limit is 0.2 milligrams per litre.

Ammonia - Free - as NH3

Ammonia is added to some of South Australia’s drinking water systems which are chloraminated, a treatment ensuring your tap water is clean and safe to drink. There’s no health risk, so no national health limit. The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines sets an aesthetic limit of 0.5 milligrams per litre so that corrosion of copper pipes and fittings is prevented. Our drinking waters are consistently below this limit.

Antimony

Can sometimes be present in drinking waters, usually in low concentrations, if there’s been contact with antimony-tin solder. All South Australia’s tap waters are consistently below the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines health limit of 0.003 milligrams per litre, and lead-based solders are no longer permitted to be used by licensed plumbers in Australia.

Arsenic

A naturally occurring element found in water, food and soil. It’s sometimes found in surface water, usually in low levels, but it can occur in higher levels in some groundwater sources. It can also be in water because of contamination from industrial waste such as mining and agriculture. We use specific treatment methods to remove arsenic from the water, and this ensures all South Australia’s tap waters are consistently lower than the national health limit of 0.01 milligrams per litre.

Barium

A naturally occurring element, found in low levels in South Australia’s drinking water supplies. The Australian Drinking Water Guideline health limit for barium is 2 milligrams per litre and our drinking waters are consistently well below this.

Beryllium

This is a naturally occurring element that comes from weathering of rocks and atmospheric deposition (burning of fossil fuels). It’s present in very low levels in South Australian drinking water supplies. The Australian Drinking Water Guideline health limit for it is 0.06 milligrams per litre and our drinking water supplies are consistently well below that.

Bicarbonate

Part of the breakdown of the alkalinity measure, with no limits on health or aesthetics in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines for it.

Boron

Boron is naturally present in all water, with slightly higher concentrations associated with seawater. South Australian drinking waters are consistently lower than the Australian Drinking Water Guideline health limit of 4 milligrams per litre.

Cadmium

Elevated cadmium levels can be caused by industrial or agricultural contamination or from impurities in galvanised fittings, solders and brasses.  South Australian drinking waters are consistently lower than the Australian Drinking Water Guideline health limit of 0.002 milligrams per litre.

Calcium

A measure of this naturally occurring element which can enter the water in the catchments. It’s sometimes added in the treatment process to make your water less acidic. The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines doesn’t have a limit on health or aesthetics for calcium.

Carbonate

Part of the breakdown of the alkalinity measure, with no health or aesthetic limits for it in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

Chloral hydrate

A by-product of disinfection, created when chemicals added to drinking water to protect public health react with natural organic material (such as leaves and small particles of earth) sometimes present in source water. The national health limit for chloral hydrate is 100 micrograms per litre and South Australian drinking waters are consistently below this.

Chloride

A measure of this naturally occurring element which can be present, usually in low levels, in South Australia’s surface water catchments. Higher concentrations are more common in groundwater systems. There’s no impact to the health of drinking water, but higher amounts – such as greater than the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines aesthetic limit of 250 milligrams per litre can change how the water tastes.

Chloramine (mono residual)

Like chlorine, chloramine destroys bacteria and other pathogens that can be present in source water and ensures tap water is clean and safe to drink. This is the amount of monochloramine (NH2Cl) present, a mixture of chlorine and ammonia. Because chloramine is better than chlorine at penetrating longer pipes it’s used in longer water distribution systems across the state. Plus, it makes the water taste better. All South Australia’s chloraminated water systems are consistently lower than the national health limit of 5 milligrams per litre.

Chlorine (free residual)

Chlorine is used in the water treatment process to protect public health and ensure water is safe to drink, destroying bacteria and other pathogens that can be present in source water. This is a measure of the amount of chlorine left in your water once all the demand has been satisfied – the amount remaining to further destroy any microorganisms. All South Australia’s drinking water systems are consistently lower than the national health limit for free chlorine residual of 5 milligrams per litre and all efforts are made to meet the aesthetic limit of 0.6 milligrams per litre.

Chlorine (total residual)

Chlorine is used in the water treatment process to protect public health and ensure water is safe to drink, destroying bacteria and other pathogens that can be present in source water. This is a measure of the amount of chlorine present in your tap water. All South Australia’s drinking water systems are consistently lower than the national health limit for total chlorine residual of 5 milligrams per litre.

Chlorite

Chlorite is a by-product of chlorine dioxide disinfection. Because we don’t use this to treat any of South Australian waters, our tap waters always contain below the national health limit of 0.8 milligrams per litre.

Chloroacetic Acid

A by-product of disinfection, created when chemicals added to protect public health react with source water which might contain naturally occurring humic and fulvic acids which can be released from soils. South Australian drinking water supplies are consistently lower than the national health limit of 150 micrograms per litre for it.

Chromium

Elevated chromium levels can be because of industrial or agricultural contamination or from corrosion of pipes. South Australian drinking waters are consistently lower than the Australian Drinking Water Guideline health limit of 0.05 milligrams per litre.

Colour

Filtration and treatment processes are designed to optimise removal of any colour from your drinking water, which can be caused by fine particles of natural organic matter or sediment present in source water. All South Australia’s drinking water systems are consistently lower than the national aesthetic limit for colour, which is 15 Hazen Units.

Copper

If there’s copper in drinking water it’s most likely from corrosion of pipes and fittings. At levels higher than 1 milligram per litre it may stain your taps and fittings, more than 2 milligrams could cause health issues in some people, and at 3 milligrams per litre it can change the taste of the water slightly. All South Australia’s drinking waters consistently pass the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines limits for copper, which is 2 milligram per litre for health and 1 milligrams per litre for aesthetics.

Cyanide as CN

Can be present in drinking water if source water is contaminated or through the natural decomposition of some plants. Some microorganisms can produce cyanide too, however, South Australian drinking water supplies are always lower than the national health limit of 0.08 milligrams per litre.

Dichloroacetic Acid

A by-product of disinfection, created when chemicals added to protect public health react with source water which might contain naturally occurring humic and fulvic acids which can be released from soils. South Australian drinking water supplies consistently contain lower than the national health limit of 100 micrograms per litre.

E.coli

A type of microorganism most commonly found in human, dog, bird or other warm-blooded animal faeces, Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most specific indicator of a recent faecal contamination, and if present in water it can cause illness or diarrhoea. E. coli in source water is destroyed by the disinfection processes and drinking water systems in South Australia are carefully managed to ensure there’s no E. coli bacteria present. If E. coli is detected in drinking water, through the extensive monitoring process, immediate corrective action is taken in conjunction with SA Health.

Fluoride

Fluoride is a trace mineral found naturally in water, soils and foods. It’s added to South Australia’s metropolitan and major country drinking water supplies, as mandated by our state health authority, because its proven to provide a significant public health benefit. Fluoride does not affect the taste, look or smell of your drinking water. All fluoridated drinking water systems are carefully monitored to ensure they pass the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines health limit for fluoride, which is 1.5 milligrams per litre.

Hard and soft water

Values (milligrams per Litre) What this means
<60 mgL Soft water, but possibly corrosive

60-200 mg/L

Good quality water

200-500 mg/L

Increasing scaling problems

> 500 mg/L

Severe scaling

Hardness

The sum of the concentrations of calcium and magnesium ions shown as calcium carbonate equivalent. More than 200 milligrams per litre is considered hard water, usually more likely if you’re supplied mainly by groundwater systems, and can lead to scaling problems on your appliances and taps. If you have hard water you can find information about how to help protect your appliances here.

Hardness - English degrees

Expressed in English Degrees, the mineral content of your water (particularly calcium and magnesium ions).

Hardness - French degrees

Expressed in French Degrees, the mineral content of your water (particularly calcium and magnesium ions).

Hardness - German degrees

Expressed in German degrees, the mineral content of your water (particularly calcium and magnesium ions).

Hardness - International

The sum of the concentrations of calcium and magnesium ions shown as calcium carbonate equivalent. More than 200 milligrams per litre is considered hard water, usually more likely if you’re supplied mainly by groundwater systems, and can lead to scaling problems on your appliances and taps. If you have hard water you can find information about how to help protect your appliances here. Hardness of water is generally used to help set up dishwashers. Depending on where your dishwasher was made, you may need this information in one of the following forms. Check your dishwater manual to confirm.

Iodide

A naturally occurring element which can be present in water because of leaching from salts and mineral deposits. The Australian Drinking Water Guideline health limit for iodide is 0.5 milligrams per litre and South Australia’s drinking waters are consistently below than this.

Iron

A measure of this naturally occurring element present in water catchments. Although it’s safe to drink, higher than normal amounts of iron can sometimes discolour drinking water and change its taste. Our treatment and filtration methods may be altered accordingly, however, South Australia’s tap waters are consistently lower than the national aesthetic limit of 0.3 milligram per litre. There’s no health limit for iron in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

Lanthanum

A rare earth element which can occur naturally in water from weathering of rock. It is used as a phosphate binder to reduce algal blooms in reservoirs, as an agriculture fertiliser or it can leach from the tailings of rare earth mining. South Australian drinking waters are consistently lower than the Australian Drinking Water Guideline health limit of 0.002 milligrams per litre.

Lead

Lead can be present in drinking water either because of dissolution from natural sources, or from any lead from your household plumbing systems (such as in pipes or solder used to seal joints). South Australia’s tap waters are consistently lower than the national health limit of 0.01 milligrams per litre. The amount of any lead in water depends on factors including pH, water hardness and standing time. Exceedance of acceptable lead levels are rare in South Australia, however if you are concerned or would like further information, SA Health provide advice about reducing lead in your home and in turn, your drinking water.

Magnesium

A measure of this naturally occurring mineral, essential to human health, which occurs in our water catchments. If concentrations of calcium and magnesium increase, so does the hardness of drinking water, however, there’s no health or aesthetic limit for magnesium in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

Manganese

Manganese is naturally present in the environment and is usually found in low levels in our drinking water supplies. At high levels it may affect taste of drinking water and discolour the water as well as affect pipes.  All South Australia’s drinking water systems pass the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines limits for manganese, which are 0.5 milligrams per litre for health and 0.1 milligrams per litre for aesthetics.

Mercury

Natural release of mercury into drinking water is extremely low, but contamination can result from industrial emissions or spills.  The Australian Drinking Water Guideline health limit for mercury is 0.001 milligrams per litre and all of South Australia’s drinking water are well below this.

Molybdenum

Naturally occurring in ground and surface waters but usually at very low levels.  Higher levels can be associated with mining, fertilisers or fly ash deposits from coal fuelled power stations.  The Australian Drinking Water Guideline health limit for molybdenum is 0.05 milligrams per litre and South Australian drinking water supplies are well below this.

NDMA (N-Nitrosodimethylamine)

A by-product of disinfection, created when chemicals added to make the water safe to drink (particularly chloramine), react with some organic compounds. The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines health limit for NDMA is 100 nanograms per litre and South Australia’s drinking waters are consistently below this limit.

Nickel

The likely source of any nickel in drinking water is from nickel-plated tap and plumbing fittings. The national health limit for nickel is 0.02 milligrams per litre and South Australian drinking waters are consistently lower than this.

Nitrate + nitrite as NO3

Naturally present usually in low levels in surface water but can occur in higher levels in some of South Australia’s ground water sources. All our drinking waters are consistently below the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines health limit of 50 milligrams per litre, which ensures the water is safe for bottle fed babies. Adults and babies over 3 months old can safely drink water with up to 100 milligrams per litre.

Pentachlorophenol

A pesticide which is unlikely to be found in drinking water at levels that could cause health concerns. The Australian Drinking Water Guideline health limit for it is 10 micrograms per litre and South Australian drinking waters are consistently well below this.

pH

A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of your tap water, where 1 is very acidic, 7 is 'neutral', and 14 is very alkaline. The national aesthetic limit is between 6.5 to 8.5, however if you’re drinking better tasting chloraminated water, your tap water may have a higher pH, and this is normal.

Potassium

An essential element found in humans and rarely, if ever, found in drinking water at levels that could be of concern. There’s no health or aesthetic limits for potassium in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

Selenium

Selenium is a chemical that’s nutritionally essential for humans, and it’s naturally present in low concentrations in water sources across South Australia. The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines sets a health limit of 0.01 milligrams per litre and our drinking waters are consistently below this.

Silica - reactive

Silica is a naturally occurring and common mineral that forms the major component of most rocks and soils. It’s naturally present in surface water, usually in low levels, but can occur in higher levels in some of the state’s groundwater sources. There’s no national health limit for silica in drinking water, however, because it can cause unwanted build up on glass surfaces, the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines sets an aesthetic limit of 80 milligrams per litre for it.

Silver

Concentrations of this precious metal in natural source water is generally very low. South Australia’s drinking waters are consistently well below the national health limit for silver which is 0.1 milligrams per litre.

Sodium

Present in almost all water, food and drink. While remaining safe to drink, levels greater than the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines aesthetic limit of 180 milligrams per litre can change how your tap water tastes. These higher levels are more common in groundwater systems. There’s no national health limit for sodium.

Sulphate

A measure of this dissolved mineral which is present in South Australia’s water catchments. All our drinking water systems are consistently lower than the national aesthetic limit of 250 milligrams per litre. There’s no national health limit for sulphate.

Total Dissolved Solids

A measure of inorganic salts and small amounts or natural organic matter (such as leaves, earth or sediment) which are dissolved in water. There’s no national health limit for this. Some of South Australia’s drinking water systems - mostly in regional areas - are higher than the national aesthetic limit of 600 milligrams per litre which affects taste.

Trichloroacetic Acid

A  by-product of disinfection, created when chemicals added to make tap water safe to drink react with water containing naturally occurring humic and fulvic acids which can be released from soils. South Australia’s drinking waters are consistently lower than the Australian Drinking Water Guideline health limit of 100 micrograms per litre.

Trihalomethanes

Trihalomethanes (THMs) are by-products of disinfection, created when disinfectants added to protect public health (particularly chlorine) react with natural organic matter (such as leaves, earth and sediment) that can be present in source water. Drinking water systems in South Australia are carefully managed so that any concentrations of THMs are as low as possible, aiming to consistently be within the national health limit of 250 micrograms per litre, whilst ensuring the important disinfection process making water safe to drink is not compromised.

Turbidity

A measure of any presence of very fine particles in water, rarely found at levels that could be noticeable. At higher concentrations turbidity can mean your water could look discoloured, however it remains safe to drink. There’s no national health limit for turbidity, and all of South Australia’s drinking water systems are lower than the national aesthetic limit of 5 NTU.

Uranium

Uranium may sometimes be present in the environment as a result of leaching from soil, rocks and natural deposits or from mining activities, combustion of coal and phosphate fertilisers. South Australia’s drinking waters are consistently lower than the health limit of 0.017 milligrams per litre set by the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

Zinc

Small amounts of zinc can sometimes be present if galvanised pipes/fittings and brasses are corroded, however, rarely found at levels in South Australian drinking water systems that would impact the taste of your tap water. There’s no health impact, and all of South Australia’s drinking water systems are lower than the national aesthetic limit of 3 milligrams per litre.

2 4 6-trichlorophenol

A by-product of disinfection, created when chemicals added to protect public health (particularly chlorine) react with water which may contain phenol or related chemicals, which may be in source waters in very low concentrations because of some herbicides. All South Australia’s drinking waters are always well below the Australian Drinking Water Guideline health (20 micrograms per litre) and aesthetic (2 micrograms per litre) limits.

2 4-dichlorophenol

A by-product of disinfection, created when chemicals added to protect public health (particularly chlorine) react with water which may contain phenol or related chemicals, which may be in source waters in very low concentrations because of some herbicides. All South Australia’s drinking waters are consistently lower than the Australian Drinking Water Guideline health limit (200 micrograms per litre) and aesthetic limit (0.3 micrograms per litre).

2-chlorophenol

A by-product of disinfection, created when chemicals added to protect public health (particularly chlorine) react with water which may contain phenol or related chemicals, which may be in source waters in very low concentrations because of some herbicides. All South Australia’s drinking waters are consistently below the national health limit (300 micrograms per litre) and the aesthetic limit (0.1 micrograms per litre).

A by-product of disinfection, created when chemicals added to protect public health (particularly chlorine) react with water which may contain phenol or related chemicals, which may be in source waters in very low concentrations because of some herbicides. All South Australia’s drinking waters are consistently below the national health limit (300 micrograms per litre) and the aesthetic limit (0.1 micrograms per litre).

  • Major faults

  • Resolved

  • Bray St
  • Plympton Park
  • 11/09/2019
  • Water Supply On
  • 11/09/2019 09:53 PM - We are attending to an incident in Plympton Park with no interruption to the water supply. The safety of our crews and customers comes first, and we always aim to minimise inconvenience by restoring services as quickly as we can. Reference Number WO: 07126521.
  • See all major faults

  • Scheduled works

  • Underway
  • Brighton Rd
  • Brighton
  • 11/09/2019
  • Temporary Supply Interruption
  • Estimated start time and water supply off: 09/09/2019 12:30 PM
    Estimated restore time and water supply back on: 16/09/2019 12:30 PM

    We’re improving your services and undertaking maintenance work in Brighton. Sometimes our crews need to temporarily interrupt the water supply to our customers and/or manage traffic while they are working. Temporary traffic management may remain in place until reinstatement of the impacted road is complete. We always aim to minimise inconvenience by restoring services as safely and quickly as we can.


  • See all scheduled works