Chloramine in the Garden: Why Municipal Water Might Pose Problems 12


Raise your hand if you turn on the hose to water your garden when it’s thirsty. I suspect that most of us do at least some of the time. That may not be the best way to hydrate your plants, though. Especially if your municipal water is treated with chloramine.

Chloramine kills bacteria, but it's not great for gardens.

Why chloramine?

For years, municipalities have been adding chlorine to water supplies to make it safe for drinking. At a recent community event I learned that our municipal water provider has switched over to something called chloramine, and other municipalities are embracing chloramine as well. The difference is this: the chlorine in water will dissipate if you leave a container of water uncovered for a few hours. Chloramine is not removed from water by boiling, distilling, or by standing uncovered. Both of these treatments kill bacteria and microorganisms in our household water, making it safe for use.

Here’s the rub: Good healthy soil is home to lots of living bacteria and microorganisms. It stands to reason that water that’s been treated to kill off bacteria in our drinking water might also kill off the good bacteria in our soil, making it harder and harder to maintain healthy soil.

What to do? You’ll need to determine if you feel the chemicals in the water are compromising your soil’s health. If at all possible, consider rainwater collection. If you live in an area that gets rain throughout the growing season, you can probably get by with a couple of small barrels to supplement during dry spells. Residents of arid locations will have a tougher time of it and need a bigger system. If catchment just isn’t an option, you’ll need to call your water department to determine what product they’re using to treat your water.

How to remedy municipal water

If it’s chlorine, consider adding a water barrel or two to your garden area that you can fill with municipal water. Let it sit and the chlorine can dissipate before you use it to water.

If it’s chloramine give some thought to creating a filtration system. This site has some good information on creating a water filter from a recycled fuel drum. (Your choice of receptacle might vary.) Maybe it’s a project you can tackle while you’re anxiously awaiting planting time?

I’m doing everything I can to bring my soil back to a living, teeming collection of microorganisms. I use collected rainwater when I can. But I was disappointed to find out that letting municipal water sit so that the chemicals dissipate is no longer a viable option.

What do you use for watering your garden? Have you had success addressing this issue?

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12 thoughts on “Chloramine in the Garden: Why Municipal Water Might Pose Problems

  • ChiotsRun

    I’ve always been a huge advocate of using rain water and had a 7 barrel system in Ohio. Luckily we have well water here in Maine so we don’t have to worry about this until our rain collection system is set up. This is definitely disturbing. I wonder if using activated charcoal would help to filter this out?

    I can’t believe everyone is drinking this stuff….

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      I know. I didn’t even want to touch the health implications of this! And yes, activated charcoal filters are supposed to remove this chemical.

  • Brette

    I never thought about the impact on soil of chlorinated water. Thanks for pointing this out!

  • Toni

    Private well water. Straight out of the ground for the garden, filtered and UV light treated for in the house and for the chickens.

  • April

    We are lucky enough to have irrigation water. Be careful of rainwater collected from the roof. It carries down chemical s from your roof and is not recommended for any plants you would eat.

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      April, I know you’ve mentioned roof contamination before. What do you think about water running off a tin roof (as opposed to comp shingles)?

      • April

        Kris I don’t know anything about tin roofs. I just know that when I went to the county workshop to make mine a few years ago they were adamant about it. And these weren’t hippy dippy crunchy granola people so I took it pretty seriously. If even they said it was a bad idea then I knew I would think it’s a terrible idea.

  • Kirsten@FarmFreshFeasts

    Today I could be collecting snow . . . . happy Spring!
    Last year we were lucky to have a barrel handed down to us, and it was used primarily for the 4 dozen tree seedlings we fostered for the local parks and rec department and the hanging ferns, with the rest going to the raised beds. I stocked up on rainwater at the end of the fall to water the houseplants over the winter, supplementing with melted snow when I was running low. When Spring really does arrive we’ll hook back up the old barrel and add a new barrel on the other side of the roof. I plan on keeping up my jugs to empty the barrel before each storm, so I can make it through the dry times.
    This is the first time I’m living in a hard water area, so I know at the very least the water is city-softened in addition to whichever chlorine product it is treated with.
    Thanks-I’m off to check out what’s in our water.

  • Alexandra

    We have well water. But my daughters live in the city and now you have frightened me. Will check what their municipalities have. Thanks for this alert.

  • Doug

    Back when we had an aquarium, chloramine was a problem (fish aren’t too happy with it). There was an additive that disabled both chlorine and chloramine. No clue what it is or what it would cost to process large quantities of water but it might be worth a visit to your local aquarium store to check out.

    • Janelle

      Sodium Thiosulfate is what can neutralize the chlorine and chloramines, not to fear, there are options! And I do believe the chloramine will dissipate if left for an extended amount of time no? I don’t usually water with anything but compost tea, all you need is a big scoop of any old compost in a bucket of water, left to sit for like a day, water with that and you will be watering and fertilizing at the same time.

  • Meagan @ Growing Up Herbal

    This is really interesting Kris. We’re in the process of planning our first garden at our new home (which has city water only), and I’ve been looking into this Rainshowr’ Water Garden Filtration System here (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000N4K4H2/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pd_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=2S5XN64I597BT&coliid=I3SEZD92AVT27M) that is supposed to get rid of the junk from your water before it hits your garden soil. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it or if you know anything about it, but I’m not really sure what else to do. We do live on a mountain side and it seems we have good drainage so hopefully we won’t have to water too often.