The District has tested the water in some of the city's neighborhoods in response to an unusually large number of complaints in the last week that the water smells and tastes foul.

City officials said the tests do not reveal any health dangers and speculate that the problem may have been caused by city testing of water flow, which may have dislodged sediment from water mains.

Although the 80 complaints have been scattered across the city, most of them have come from the Capitol Hill area. Residents there have complained that their water, which is sometimes discolored, has the smell and taste of dirt. Some also have complained they have gotten sick from the water.

In the last few days, the city has collected samples from those homes and from city reservoirs and tested them for bacteria and contamination. All of the samples have tested negative, and city officials do not plan to issue a health advisory.

"There's something there, but it's not health-threatening," said Kazys Vasatis, acting chief of the D.C. Bureau of Water Services. "The water is potable, but maybe not palatable."

"As far as we're concerned, the water is safe," said Schanolia Barnes, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works.

Official assurances of safety, however, do not please all District residents affected by the problem.

Patricia Chittams, of Southwest Washington, has been buying five-gallon containers of mineral water because her tap water "tastes like it was filtered through dirt."

"There's a problem which I feel {the city} should have informed people about, but they didn't," she said.

Chittams, a letter carrier, said she refuses to use tap water in the baby formula for her 3-month-old son. She said her other son, who is 5, contracted diarrhea shortly after the water turned foul. His illness dissipated, Chittams said, when the family began using bottled water.

Harry Ways, head of the Army Corps of Engineers regional aqueduct, which supplies the District's water, said the problem did not originate at the water's source.

Water from the Potomac River flows to three reservoirs and is then sent to one of the city's two treatment facilities. There, sediment is removed and chlorine and fluoride are added. The water is then pumped to water mains that serve individual houses.

It is in smaller water mains, closer to houses, where Ways said he thinks the problem originated.

He said that the District's testing of water flow "may have stirred something up in that section of the mains," and flaked off rust and other sediment.

The solution, he said, is for the city to flush out the hydrants.