The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has notified the city of Fresno that its water system still complies with state and federal rules on lead in the drinking water supply.
The finding follows a review of city testing that followed more than 2,000 of complaints last year over discolored water, lead levels and pipe corrosion related to a city water-treatment plant.
In a Jan. 19 letter, the EPA said the city “has historically complied with the U.S. EPA and state of California Lead and Copper Rule for providing safe drinking water to its residents,” according to a statement from the city.
Mark Standriff, a spokesman for the city, said the EPA’s declaration includes sampling done over the past year of homes across northeast Fresno, where differences between groundwater and treated surface water from Fresno’s Northeast Surface Water Treatment Plant are believed to be connected to complaints about rust-tinted water coming from the taps of homes plumbed with galvanized iron pipes. The city’s testing showed the presence of lead in at least 60 homes at levels above 15 parts per billion, the EPA’s threshold at which water systems must take corrective action.
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“The EPA took all of the samples from our investigation and considered them as one group,” Standriff said Wednesday. “And then the state’s Lead and Copper Rule testing since 1993 was another group.”
“We’re happy with this review because now the city, the state Water Resources Control Board, the Fresno County Department of Health and the EPA are all on the same page,” said Thomas Esqueda, Fresno’s director of public utilities.
Under federal and state rules, the city is required every three years to test its water from drinking water taps of selected customer homes across the city that fit conditions set by the state. Since 1993, 734 individual samples have been collected under the state’s rules, according to the state’s Division of Drinking Water, and only eight have returned results with lead exceeding the action level of 15 ppb.
According to the EPA’s rule, “if lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 ppb … in more than 10 percent of customer taps sampled, the system must undertake a number of additional actions to control corrosion.”
According to national experts in water infrastructure and corrosion who are advising the city, dramatic differences between groundwater, which historically was the source of Fresno’s drinking water, and water from the Northeast Surface Water Treatment Plant, which went into operation in 2004, disrupted layers of scale and rust built up inside galvanized pipes in residents’ homes. But from 2004 until early 2016, complaints to the city’s water division about discoloration – perhaps 150 or more a year – went unreported to state regulators. And operators at the treatment plant apparently failed to connect the dots as problems surfaced in multiple neighborhoods throughout northeast Fresno.