Managers of the two water districts serving Laguna Beach residents say lead contamination like that experienced in Flint, Mich., is unlikely here, even in older homes, because the water source is constantly monitored by suppliers.
Old plumbing often contains lead pipes in homes built before 1991, when lead in household water pipes was banned by the Environmental Protection Act. When the water source contains corrosive elements, they can leach lead out of old pipes and into the tap water, according to Christopher Regan, assistant general manager of the Laguna Beach County Water District.
“The issue in Flint has definitely raised awareness regarding lead in plumbing fixtures,” said Regan.
The water that comes to Laguna Beach from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is checked daily, said Regan. And tap water from a sampling of homes is tested for lead every three years, in accordance with the EPA, and no detectable lead has been found, according to reports from both the LBCWD and South Coast Water District in South Laguna. Neither district uses lead pipes.
A second source of water, the Santa Ana River water basin, will be tapped by LBCWD by summer, providing two-thirds of its local water needs, Regan said. The water from the Orange County Water District is noncorrosive and being used by a number of water districts overlying the river basin, he said.
In 2014, lead was found at low levels in three homes out of 31 tested in the SCWD service area, said Andy Brunhart, SCWD general manager; none were near the levels considered dangerous by the EPA. “The lead levels in the homes we tested were under one part per billion,” he said, or the equivalent to less than a drop of water in 500, 42-gallon barrels. The allowable EPA level is 15 parts per billion, he said.
LBCWD samples lead at-the-tap in 30 homes that might have lead water pipes or newer copper pipes that used lead solder, Regan said. In 2014, no lead was detected in the sample homes, he said.
“And we operate our system under optimized corrosion control to minimize lead leaching from plumbing materials in older homes,” Regan said.
Flint’s drinking water supply became contaminated after the city switched to a new water source, which was not treated for corrosion control. The corrosive elements leached lead from old residential water pipes, contaminating tap water and creating a public health emergency.
Homes built before the 1930’s had pipes primarily made of lead, explained Regan. After the 1930s and through the 1980s, copper pipes were used but the solder to connect the pipes contained lead, which was common in plumbing solders until lead was banned in 1991, he said.
Southern California’s drinking water is tested 1,000 times a day, Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said in a recent email newsletter addressing local concerns after the Flint crisis.
“Switching from one water source to another without implementing necessary treatment adjustments appears to be at the root of that community’s challenge,” Kightlinger said.
MWD imports water from two sources, the Colorado River and Northern California. Both are low in corrosive qualities, said Kightlinger. Measurements to monitor corrosion are among the more than 350 constituents that are tested by MWD more than 350,000 times a year at five treatment plants, he said. Measurements of corrosion are included in MWD’s annual water quality report.
MWD also adjusts the acidic pH level of water leaving its treatment plants to ensure the water is not corrosive, he said, and offers more information at “About Your Water” at mwdh2o.com.
If you think your home contains lead, you can minimize the potential from lead exposure by flushing the tap water at least 30 seconds before using the water, suggested Brunhart.
If there’s concern about lead leaching from household pipes, Regan suggests residents call a certified laboratory, not a home-water-treatment company, to have tap water analyzed. LBCWD provides contact information for the lab it uses. Residents can also call the Orange County Health Department for a list, Regan said.
All water agencies are required to produce a water-quality report that is mailed to customers. Reports are also available on the water districts’ websites. LBCWD’s test results and corrosion measurements are included in the LBCWD’s annual water quality report.
Residents can also get information on lead in drinking water, testing methods and steps to take to minimize exposure by calling the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.