San Diego’s Public Utilities Department is responding quickly to recent reports on the possibility of the city’s water lines being made out of lead.
Last week, as reported by NBC 7, San Diego’s Water Department had informed California’s Water Board that it couldn’t identify the materials used to make two-thirds of its service lines.
The city’s disclosure differed from statements it had made to NBC 7 and media partner Voice of San Diego last year. At that time, a senior water department chemist said there were no lead pipes in the city’s distribution system.
But a new state law requires cities and counties to identify what water pipes are made of and replace any unidentified pipes, or pipes found to be made of lead.
When using the numbers the city provided to the state earlier this year, replacing two-thirds of its water lines could cost millions, if not a billion dollars.
After NBC 7 and Voice of San Diego’s story last week, the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Rolando Charvel got involved. Charvel directed water department workers to find out exactly what those water lines are made of.
On Wednesday, Charvel told Voice of San Diego that he believes the number of potential lead lines is more like 3,000, which is less than one percent of the city’s 192,000 service lines.
Charvel said that’s only an estimate but the city is confident the numbers will be far less than what was reported to the state.
“The financial exposure related to lead service lines is very insignificant,” Charvel said.
City officials said the high number of unknown service lines reported to the state water board stemmed from city records that are not in an electronic format. Workers will have to sort through paper records to determine the materials used in each pipe.
Other cities in California are in the same boat.
Last week, NBC 7 also reported on the city of San Luis Obispo telling state officials it does not know what materials were used in 98 percent of its lines.
Katie Ferber, a spokesperson for San Luis Obispo, said city workers were also in the process of digitizing records and the city believes the “vast majority” of its 15,000 service lines are made of polyethylene and copper, not lead.
All California water agencies have until July 2020 to confirm and report their final numbers to the state. At that time, agencies will be required to come up with a plan for how to replace lines where the materials are unknown or made of lead.