Water & Sewer

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if my water is discolored?

Refrain from using water for at least an hour, if possible, then run the cold water for only a few minutes to see if it clears. Repeat this process at least twice. Please call Water Control at (610) 865-7077 if the problem persists and we will dispatch someone to your location

Is there fluoride in my water?                                   

Yes. There is approximately 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water.

Is there sodium in my water?

Yes. Approximately 7.5 milligrams of Sodium per liter of water.

Is my water hard or soft?

You have extremely soft water. There is approximately 1 grain per gallon or 16 milligrams per liter of water.

Why is there pink slime on my bathroom tiles?

A pink or reddish slime comes from airborne bacteria that are ubiquitous in nature. They can be found in the air, water, soil, or on household surfaces. As this bacterium grows they produce a reddish pink slime. The best way to control this slime growth is cleaning, disinfecting and good hard scrubbing using common household products.

Why are there black particles in my water?

The most common cause of black particles showing up in tap water is the disintegration of rubber materials used in plumbing fixtures. Gaskets and O rings can disintegrate over time and some pieces can collect in toilet tanks and around faucets. Replacing the seals near the area that you are experiencing the black particles will take care of this problem.

Why does my water appear milky?

This is caused from air in the lines. Fill a glass with water. If the “milkiness” clears from the bottom of the glass first, there is air in your lines and it will eventually work its way through.

Why are there black rings in my toilet or shower?

This is due to mold or mildew. Mold and mildew thrive in warm damp locations such as a toilet bowl or shower. Mold spores are found naturally in the air and will land on damp surfaces and multiply. Bathrooms are ideal places.

Who do I contact if I have a question about my bill?

Customer Service. You can reach our customer service office (610) 865-7070, Monday thru Friday between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm.

Who do I contact in case there is a water service interruption of any kind?

Please call our Control Room personnel at (610) 865-7077. They are available to assist you 24/7, 365 days a year.

Where does wastewater come from?

It comes from:

  • Homes- human and household wastes from toilets, sinks, baths, and drains.
  • Industry, Schools, and Businesses – chemicals and other wastes from factories, food-service operations, airports, shopping centers, etc.

On average, each person in the U.S. contributes 50-100 gallons of wastewater daily.

How do wastewater treatment plants protect our water?

A wastewater treatment plant:

  • Removes Solids - This includes everything from rags and sticks to sand and smaller particles found in wastewater.
  • Reduces Organic Matter and Pollutants - Helpful bacteria and other microorganisms are used to consume organic matter in wastewater. The bacteria and microorganisms are then separated from the water.
  • Restores oxygen - Treatment facilities help ensure the water put back into our lakes or rivers has enough oxygen to support life.

How does a wastewater treatment plant work?

Wastewater treatment usually takes place in two steps:

  • Primary treatment removes 40-50% of the solids. Sanitary sewers carry wastewater from homes and businesses to the treatment plant. Bar screens let water pass, but not trash. The trash is collected and properly disposed. A grit chamber is a large tank that slows down the flow of water. This allows sand, grit, and other heavy solids to settle at the bottom for removal later.
  • Secondary treatment completes the process, so that 85-90% of the pollutants are removed. A secondary sedimentation tank allows the microorganisms and solid wastes to form clumps and settle. Some of this mixture, called "activated sludge," can be mixed with air again and reused in the aeration tank. A disinfectant, such as chlorine, is usually added to the wastewater before it leaves the wastewater treatment plant. The disinfectant kills disease-causing organisms in the water. After treatment, the water can be returned to nearby waterways. It can also be used on land for agriculture and other purposes.

FOG (fats, oil, grease)

Cooking oils and grease should be collected in a container, covered, and disposed of as solid waste in your household garbage. Fats, oils, and grease may go in as a liquid, but sooner or later they cool and build up on the sides of your pipes and collect in the sewer system. Fats, oils, and grease are a major cause of sewer line blockages and sewage backups.


What are biosolids?

Biosoilds can be a useful byproduct of treated wastewater. Solids collected during primary treatment may be treated (thickened) to remove some of its water, then further processed by stabilization. Thickened solids are allowed to decompose in digester tanks. In some cases, special chemicals are used for stabilization. Stabilized biosolids have no odor and are free of disease-causing organisms. Biosolids that meet federal and state standards can be safely used as:

  • A soil conditioner to improve the soil for crops in some areas of the nation. Biosolids can also improve the soil for lawns, fields, and parks.
  • Fuel. Using certain processes, biosolids can also be used to produce methane gas. The methane can then be burned to supply energy for a small power plant or for other purposes.

Biosolids that do not meet federal and state standards must be disposed in approved landfills or burned using special technology to prevent air pollution.

Who operates treatment plants?

The daily treatment plant operation is conducted by highly trained and certified operators. It requires:

  • A plant manager/superintendent to ensure the plant has enough money, trained personnel, and equipment to conduct business.
  • Maintenance personnel to prevent mechanical failures and solve equipment problems.
  • Plant operators who know how to treat wastewater properly before discharging it into the environment. After a thorough training and exam process, operators are licensed through state standards.

Are there any special challenges in treating wastewater?

  • Nutrients - Phosphorus, nitrogen, and other chemical nutrients found in wastewater can damage lakes and rivers. These nutrients need to be changed into less harmful substances or removed before being released into the environment.
  • Toxic Chemicals - Sometimes wastewater contains hazardous chemicals from industry, pesticides, etc. Controlling these chemicals may require pretreatment of wastewater by industries and the use of advanced tertiary treatment methods at the wastewater treatment plant.
  • Water Infiltration - Water entering the treatment system through cracks or joints in sewer lines or storm drains places an extra burden on a facility.
  • Changes in Water Flow - The amount and kind of wastewater entering a treatment plant can change quickly. Plant operators must be ready to respond to these changing conditions.

What can I do to help?

Use and dispose of household chemicals properly.
Don't pour solvents, pesticides, paint thinners, engine oil, or household cleaning products with hazardous chemicals down the drain or into a storm sewer. Take them to a recycling center or hazardous waste collection site. Use fertilizers and pesticides carefully and only as directed. Try to find safe alternatives to products that can harm water supplies.

Be informed.
Learn about your local water supplies and any possible threats the water supply faces. Know what your community is doing to protect your water supply. Help other citizens be aware of the importance of clean water in your community.

Support your local wastewater treatment plant.
Be aware of your wastewater treatment plant's effort to provide clean water. Help make sure the plant has the money, equipment, and personnel to ensure the water's safety. Visit your local wastewater treatment plant. Learn what special problems it must solve and what you can do to help. Use water wisely. Practice water conservation at home and at work. Fix leaks and install water-saving devices and appliances. Be aware of how much water you use in your household. Don't take this valuable resource for granted.

Don’t ever flush these 14 things down the toilet.

Bathroom wipes –These “moist towelettes” are becoming an increasingly popular bathroom accessory. Despite the fact that they’re marketed to be flushed like toilet paper, these wipes are creating clogs and backups in sewer systems around the nation. Same thing goes for baby wipes and cleaning wipes.

Feminine hygiene products –There is a good reason why every restaurant, mall or any public bathroom has a sign telling you NOT to flush feminine hygiene products down the toilet. They are inherently designed to absorb moisture and expand. The expansion makes them unsafe to pass through pipes and sewers

Condoms –They probably seem small and very similar to toilet tissue, but these latex prophylactics are like kryptonite for sewage collection systems and wastewater treatment plants.
Cotton balls and swabs – It might seem like these tiny bathroom tools would just get soggy and eventually break down in the sewer pipes, but they don’t. They eventually gather together in the bends of pipe, causing massive blockages.

Prescription medicine –Many people feel like they’re doing the safe thing by flushing them, but it’s actually very dangerous. These drugs destroy bacteria, which are needed to process waste at the wastewater treatment plant and contaminate the river that the wastewater treatment plant discharges into.

Paper towels – Most people think that they are designed to breakdown like toilet paper. They are not. Flushing them can cause big problems.

Disposable diapers –Just because there is a mess in it, doesn’t mean that it belongs in the toilet. Diapers are made from plastic that’s designed to expand when it comes in contact with water. In the slim chance you get it down the drain, it will instantly be caught in the u-bend, and cause a terrible back up.
Cat litter – Cat litter is made from sand and clay and should never be flushed down into a toilet.
Band-aids – These are made from non-biodegradable plastic, which can cause terrible clogs in the sewer system.

Dental floss –Despite feeling like string, dental floss is non-biodegradable. Once flushed, it loves to wrap itself around other objects in the pipeline, making tiny clogs bigger in an instant.

Hair –Just because it’s part of our body doesn’t mean it can be safely flushed down the toilet. Like dental floss, it forms giant balls which trap other objects and creates massive blockages in sewer pipes.

Latex gloves –Very similar to condoms in that they are made of latex, these create the same problems.

Rags, cloth, mophead pieces-These cleaning supplies should be thrown away in the trash after their useable life has ended.

Rope/string –These “cotton” items do not dissolve and can cause the same problems as dental floss.

What is the Municipal Industrial Pretreatment Program (MIPP)?

The Municipal Industrial Pretreatment Program is a cooperative effort of federal, state, and local agencies to protect water quality by reducing the amount of pollutants discharged by industry and other non-domestic sources into sewer systems and the environment.

 What is the difference between an SIU and a CIU?

An industrial user (IU) will be classified as a significant industrial user (SIU) if it meets any of the following:

(A) Is subject to categorical pretreatment standards under 40 CFR 403.6 and 40 CFR chapter I, subchapter N;
(B) Discharges an average of 25,000 gallons per day (gpd) or more of process wastewater to the publicly owned treatment works (POTW), excluding sanitary, noncontact cooling, and boiler blowdown wastewater;
(C) Contributes a process wastestream that makes up 5 percent or more of the average dry-weather hydraulic or organic capacity of the POTW;
(D) Is designated as such by the POTW on the basis that the IU has a reasonable potential for adversely affecting the POTW's operation or for violating any pretreatment standard or requirement [in accordance with 40 CFR 403.8(f)(6)].

A categorical industrial user (CIU) is an SIU [see (A) above], but an SIU is not always a CIU. Categorical users have specific limits and requirements that are determined by the federal government. States and local governments can develop requirements that are more restrictive, but not less restrictive.

What are the Objectives of the pretreatment program: 

  1. Protect the POTW from pollutants that may interfere with wastewater treatment plant operations.
  2. Prevent introducing pollutants into a POTW that could pass through wastewater plants into rivers.
  3. Manage pollutants discharged into POTW to ensure opportunities for reuse of POTW wastewater and residuals (compost).
  4. Prevent introducing pollutants into a POTW that could cause worker health or safety concerns, or that could pose a potential endangerment to the public or to the environment.

The term "pretreatment" refers to the requirement that non-domestic (industrial) sources discharging wastewater into the sewer system control their discharges, and meet limits established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), the State of Pennsylvania, or the local municipality. This may necessitate prevention techniques, production practice improvements or treatment prior to discharging waste into the sewer system by a company.

Bethlehem currently has 35 significant industrial users. Regulatory oversight of industrial sources includes formal permitting, compliance monitoring (routine inspections and sampling), and enforcement.

How to read your Utility Bill

Your utility bill includes charges for water, sewer, and recycling depending on your service location. This bill is generated either quarterly or monthly. Your bill includes important information regarding the property usage, as well as a message center which includes important information about your service. You can also view a sample bill online [PDF].

How to pay your Utility Bill

There are several options available to make payment on your utility bill.

  • In person:  Financial Service representatives are able to process your payment at City Hall Monday through Friday 8AM to 4:30PM  (excluding holidays). Please note if you elect to pay by credit/debit card there is a fee of 2.45%. These fees are fees assessed by the credit card company.
  • 24 Hour Drop Box: Located to the left of the Church Street entrance, payments can be left in the drop box anytime day or night. Payments are picked up from the drop box twice per day during normal business hours.
  • Online Payments:  You can make a water/sewer payment using the “My Account” Portal on the City of Bethlehem website. Discover, American Express, MasterCard (Credit/Debit), and Visa (Credit/Debit) are all accepted. If the amount of the transaction is less than or equal to $300, a $3.50 flat fee is charged. If the amount of the transaction is greater than $300 but does not exceed $25,000, a fee of 2.75% is charged. These fees are assessed by the credit card processing company.

Estimate vs. Actual?

While every attempt is made to read your meter, there are times when circumstances beyond our control require us to estimate your usage.  Estimates are based on prior usage therefore when you receive an actual meter reading after an estimated bill you may notice an increase or decrease fluctuation in your bill to adjust for the actual reading.

Why is my bill so high?

  • You may have had a previously estimated invoice therefore your current bill could reflect a necessary adjustment of usage.
  • Changes in occupancy. The average person consumes approximately 6,000 gallons per person/quarterly. If the number of people occupying the property has changed it can have a direct impact to the amount of your utility bill.
  • The meter in your home measures the water entering the property and is difficult for us to determine where the water goes after is passes through the meter.
    • It could be the result of an undetected leak. For example a leaking toilet can be a major contributor to high usage and often goes undetected. You can check to see if your toilet is leaking by:
      • Putting a small amount of food coloring in the tank, if the color enters the bowl without flushing there may be a leak in the seal.
      • Sprinkle powder in the tank to determine if the toilet is leaking through the overflow.

My water pressure is low?

  • There could be a problem outside of the property affecting your service such as a line break. You can find out about activity in your area by calling the Emergency Water Control Office (610) 865-7077 anytime.
  • If there is no Water and Sewer Resources activity in your area often low pressure problems are caused by issues inside the property. This may be caused by a faulty low pressure reducer, closed valve, or clogged filters.

I think I have a problem with my water meter?

  • If your meter is broken and leaking
    • Emergency Water Control. You can reach our Emergency Water Control Office (610) 865-7077 anytime.
  • For non-emergency water meter issues
    • Customer Service. You can contact Utility Billing Customer Service during normal business hours from 8:30 AM to 4:30PM. (610) 865-7070