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Montecito’s Water is Not Like Flint’s Water

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The recent headlines from Flint, Michigan concerning high levels of lead in the public water supply has made national news. For many years lead and copper contaminant levels in drinking water supplies were identified by federal and state agencies as a health hazard. These regulatory agencies established water sampling and testing protocols to ensure the safety of drinking water. In Flint, the change in its source water supply by the local water agency caused a condition leading to an unprecedented high level of lead in household water in a very short time. Why it took so long for the alarm to be sounded is still being determined.

EPA LEAD AND COPPER RULE

As an introduction, the current Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) was implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1991 for the protection of public water supplies from high levels of lead (Pb) and copper (Cu). Pb and Cu typically enter drinking water due to the corrosion of older customer service lines and fittings containing lead and copper materials. Many older water systems, constructed before the ban of these materials by the EPA in 1987 were identified as having higher than acceptable levels of Pb and Cu which was due in part to the corrosion indices of the water source.

The LCR establishes action levels (AL) of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for Pb and 1300 ppb for Cu based on a 90th percentile level of tap water samples. An AL exceedance is not a violation, but can trigger other requirements that include more frequent water quality monitoring, corrosion control water treatment, source water monitoring/treatment, public education, and service line replacement.

LEAD AND COPPER TESTING PROGRAM

All public water systems are subject to the LCR requirements. The Montecito Water District began a comprehensive Pb and Cu water quality sampling program in 1993 when the District identified and collected 71 water samples from homes’ interior taps such as kitchen faucets. The District followed EPA guidelines and identified homes built prior to 1987 where copper pipes with lead solder may have been used that could lead to possible high Pb and Cu levels.

The District’s first LCR testing program in 1993 showed the 90th percentile of Cu was 645 ppb for all sample locations which was well below the upper action limit of 1300 ppb. Pb in the customer’s water samples was analyzed and the 90th percentile calculation showed only a 5 ppb level which was below the 15 ppb action level. In fact there were no household samples collected resulting in Pb levels even close to the EPA action level. The overall results of the District’s Pb and Cu testing program designated the District as a non-risk water system for possible high Pb and Cu levels.

DRINKING WATER SUPPLY SOURCE

Flint, Michigan is located in an old industrial area where it obtains its water; in contrast to Montecito, where most of its high quality water comes from the federally protected watershed of the Santa Ynez River. In addition, the Santa Ynez River must undergo a Watershed Sanitary Survey every 5 years which identifies possible water supply contamination sources. In all surveys completed to date, the Santa Ynez River watershed continues to be a safe source of water with no identifiable corrective actions. The source water serving Montecito is considered non-aggressive water with a “coating” potential of the interior piping, versus a leaching or corrosion of interior pipe materials which occurred in Flint.

LEAD AND COPPER PROGRAM STATUS

Due to the low Pb and Cu results, the number of MWD sampling locations and program frequency was reduced in accordance with regulatory guidelines to 30 sample locations taken every 3 years. Water quality techniques and supply management have improved over the years. LCR sample results taken in 2013 showed Pb and Cu levels lower than the first samples collected in 1993. The next Pb and Cu testing program is scheduled for September of this year.

ADDITIONAL WATER TESTING

Most of the water provided to MWD customers is treated and tested throughout the year at the Santa Barbara City Cater water treatment facility. In addition, all of the District’s potable water undergoes rigorous testing pursuant to state and federal protocols. In the annual Consumer Confidence Report sent to all customers in June there is specific reference to Pb and Cu testing.

DESALINATED WATER

The introduction of ocean desalinated water as a water supply source may result in a significant change in water quality. Low total dissolved solids, and other desalinated water quality constituents may produce more aggressive and corrosive water. Desalinated water may require additional treatment following the reverse osmosis process to ensure minimal impacts to water conveyance systems used by our customers. When desalinated water enters our water supply portfolio, MWD will test this water on a more frequent basis and keep the District’s community informed of any changes in water quality.

Please feel free to contact me at Chad@montecitowater.com if you have any questions regarding the drinking water supply quality of the District.

Chad Hurshman
Montecito Water District
Treatment and Production Superintendent