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Is San Diego Tap Water Safe to Drink?


*Reviewed by Ken Christopher, Senior Vice President at Rayne Dealership Corporation

If you live in San Diego, understanding the full scope of your local water quality is important for making an informed decision about how to protect your health and the health of your family. Though all water in the area undergoes a series of treatments before it reaches the tap at your sink, those treatments may not capture the full range of contaminants in your water supply. These contaminants are one of the main reasons a reverse osmosis water system is so important. San Diego tap water has several disinfection byproducts that do not fall within an optimal health guideline. While overall water quality may be high, the water supply has chlorine, chloramine, and fluoride depending on your San Diego region. 

Drinking Water Quality in San Diego

On the whole, San Diego’s drinking water quality meets regulatory requirements set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This means that San Diego tap water is generally considered safe drinking water. However, the fact that drinking water in San Diego doesn’t exceed regulatory thresholds set for certain contaminants doesn’t mean that you don’t risk being exposed to those contaminants and others that aren’t covered by federal regulations. If you are wondering, “is my tap water safe?”, it is helpful to spend some time understanding what contaminants are in your water.

One way to assess this is by examining how San Diego’s municipal water suppliers are meeting Public Health Goals (PHG). Created by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), PHGs are more rigorous thresholds for contaminants than those published by the EPA that municipal water suppliers are required to meet. Unlike federal regulatory standards, PHGs are non-binding and are not enforceable. PHGs can best be thought of as an aspirational target that community water suppliers should move towards, even though many fail to meet these goals.

The criteria for PHG thresholds follow the logic that the threshold should reflect a level of contaminants that is safe to drink without negative health effects if you consumed it every day for 70 years. Put another way, if you drank water containing levels of contaminants that were below PHG thresholds you could reasonably expect to have no adverse health effects from those chemicals during your lifetime. 

You can read San Diego’s 2019 Public Health Goals Report here. Another great resource for understanding water quality in the City of San Diego is the annual water quality report which can be found here. The water quality report provides greater detail about water quality in San Diego. You can also find useful information like the ph of tap water in San Diego, which is slightly alkaline. If you’re wondering, “is alkaline water good for you?”, check out our latest article on the subject. 

Between 2016 and 2018, the following contaminants exceeded PHG levels in San Diego:

  • Total Coliform Bacteria – Coliform bacteria are found in the digestive system of animals and humans, in their waste, and in the soil and environment. While not directly a health problem, total coliform bacteria is measured to represent the general condition of the water. The presence of coliform bacteria may indicate the presence of harmful bacteria such as E. coli.
  • Bromate – Bromate is a disinfection byproduct that forms when water containing bromide, a naturally occurring substance, is treated with ozone. Bromate is considered a carcinogen. The federal Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for bromate is 10 parts per billion (pbm), and values in San Diego from 2016 – 2018 measured between 0 – 10 ppb.
  • Chlorite – Chlorite is another disinfection byproduct that is formed as a byproduct when using chlorine dioxide for disinfection. The MCL for chlorite is 1 part per million (ppm), and water in San Diego registered between 0 – 1 ppm between 2016 – 2018.
  • Radionuclides – Radionuclides found in San Diego’s water that exceeded the PHG between 2016 – 2018 included gross alpha particles, gross beta particles, and uranium. These radionuclides carry some carcinogenic risk if they are consumed over long periods of time.

One other contaminant not covered in the PHG report that is worth mentioning are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are a group of man-made substances that have been detected in water, soil, and air. These substances are used in firefighting foams, coatings for non-stick pans, moisture protection for paper packaging, carpets, and many other uses. 

PFAS can enter the environment through a variety of means, including from industrial sites, landfills, and areas where firefighting foam has been used. Once in the environment, PFAS can spread far from the point of origin and persist for long periods of time. 

Alarmingly, PFAS are toxic at low concentrations and can build up in the human body over time. Negative health impacts of PFAS include:

  • Birth defects
  • Cancer
  • Liver damage
  • Immune system damage
  • Thyroid problems
  • Cholesterol issues

PFAS are widespread throughout the United States. A national study found PFAS in the blood of nearly every person tested, and those concentrations have increased over the past two decades. A recent report released by the Environmental Working Group found PFAS were in the water of nearly 7.5 million California residents. 

The location with the highest levels of PFAS in California was the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, located in northern San Diego County. 

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Is My Tap Water Safe?

The most effective method for ensuring your drinking water is free from most contaminants is to treat it yourself. Though the water flowing from your tap has already been treated, those treatments don’t capture the full spectrum of contaminants that may be in your water. Additionally, the use of disinfectants like chlorine in water and ozone leads to the formation of disinfection byproducts that may pose a health risk themselves.

The 2019 Public Health Goals Report referenced above recommends reverse osmosis (RO) as the best available treatment (BAT) for reducing levels of those contaminants below PHGs. While RO systems are cost prohibitive for use by community water suppliers, they are very cost-efficient for residential and business use when compared to alternatives like bottled water. RO systems can easily be installed at a specific tap in your home, and be used to provide tens of gallons of clean, filtered drinking water for yourself and your family. The best part about RO systems is that they protect against any unexpected rise in contaminants, so you never have to worry about the quality of tap water in San Diego again. These RO systems will transform your water source and provide clean water for your home. Beat public water systems by installing a high-quality filtration system that can reduce your cancer risk and remove harmful contaminants. 

Closing Thoughts

Though tap water in San Diego County is generally safe for consumption, certain thresholds of contaminants exceed Public Health Goals set by California health authorities. Among these are total coliforms, which are used to represent the presence of fecal coliforms like E. coli, radionuclides, and the disinfection byproducts bromate and chlorite. Also problematic are the presence of PFAS, a group of man-made chemicals that are used in firefighting foams and non-stick coatings. Water from Camp Pendleton registered the highest levels of PFAS in California.

The most effective way to ensure your family stays protected against contaminants in your water is to begin using a home water filtration system. Reverse osmosis systems offer the best protection against the contaminants found in San Diego’s drinking water, but there are a variety of water treatment methods available depending on your needs. 

To find the perfect water treatment system or water softener in San Diego, contact Rayne Water today. One of our water quality experts can help you explore our different residential and business water treatment systems, and help you find the drinking water system that meets your needs. To learn more, contact Rayne Water today.



Expert Reviewer – Ken Christopher