San Diego

Lead in Your Water Lines? City of San Diego Says It Doesn't Know

NBC 7 Investigates and Voice of San Diego found the city does not know the material used in two-thirds of all water service lines in the city.

The city of San Diego told state regulators it does not know what two-thirds of the city’s water lines are made of, as concerns have mounted over whether there are high levels of lead in local drinking water

New data released by the state reveals that officials from San Diego’s Water Department told state regulators that they are unsure what material was used to make 192,000 of the city’s 285,000 service lines. Those lines deliver water directly to homes in the city. 

The newly-released data conflicts with past statements the city provided to NBC 7 Investigates and its media partner Voice of San Diego when responding to concerns of high lead amounts found in drinking water in public schools throughout the city. 

“We have no lead pipes in our distribution system,” Senior Chemist Doug Campbell told NBC 7 and Voice of San Diego by email in April 2017. Responding to his answer, NBC 7 asked Campbell for clarification on whether he was referring to the city's water mains and if there was any lead in the city's service lines, he did not respond.

Now, the city reports it does not know what two-thirds or 67 percent of the pipes are made of. 

The city was required to provide the data after a state law was passed last year. The law requires water agencies to complete inventories of partial or total lead service lines and report those inventories to the California Water Resources Control Board by July 1, 2018. Those submissions were made public last week. 

After reviewing the state water board’s data release, showing the reports from 2,900 water agencies across the state, NBC 7 and Voice of San Diego found no other major California city has a gap in recordkeeping as large as San Diego. 

The city of San Jose, which is comparable to San Diego in population and the total number of service lines, can’t identify what 3 percent of its lines are made of. 

On the other hand, the City of Los Angeles reported it knows what 99 percent of its service lines are made of. Los Angeles has nearly three times as many service lines as San Diego. 

There are some smaller California cities in the same boat as San Diego. The city of San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast reported it does not know what 98 percent of its services lines are made of, however, the city has only a small fraction of the number of lines compared to San Diego. 

In the city of Palos Verdes, the California Water Services Company reported it does not know what 88 percent of its nearly 24,000 water services lines are made of. 

“Wow, that is a lot,” said Kurt Souza, the state Water Resources Control Board’s assistant deputy director for drinking water operations in Southern California, reacting to San Diego’s numbers. 

The new state law requires that agencies replace any service lines that are made of lead. It also requires water agencies to replace any lines that they are unsure of what material was used. There is no deadline for completing this but Souza said each service line replacement could potentially cost between $1,000 and $5,000 to replace. For San Diego, that could mean as much as $960 million to replace services lines where its materials cannot be identified. 

In response to NBC 7 and Voice of San Diego’s questions about the records, Arian Collins, a spokesperson for the water department, said, “The Public Utilities Department is currently working on a plan for the City to be in full compliance with the state requirements,” Collins said by email. 

That deadline is set for July 1, 2020.

Contact Us