Dear PoP – Water service lines?

Photo by PoPville flickr user fromcaliw/love

“Dear PoP,

We recently purchased a row house in Petworth that will be undergoing some pretty serious renovations. One thing we had not counted on, however, is replacement of the water service line. As it turns out, we have an old galvanized water line (1/2″ or 3/4″) connected to DC Water’s lead service line. I hear that this is just about the worst possible combination from a contaminant point of view. (see, e.g., From my conversation with DC Water, it sounds like most of Petworth is in the same boat. DC Water is slowly replacing many of the lead service lines in the district, but there are no plans for our block any time soon. However, I understand that if you replace the private side of your service line (the part on your property), then DC Water will replace the lead service line on the public side. (see

As part of our plumbing upgrades in the house, we are apparently required to upgrade to 1″ copper service. Has anyone else performed a similar upgrade/replacement? Who are some good plumbing contractors in the area that can handle this, and approximately how much should we expect to pay? Anything in particular we need to watch out for?”

20 Comment

  • First thing…you don’t “have” to replace your galvanized pipe. I know your contractor said the water inspector came by and ordered them to replace it, which your contractor is “more than happy” to do via a multi thousand dollar change order.

    Truth is, what you got from the DC Water inspector and your contractor was a sternly worded “recommendation”. They can’t force you to do crap.

    If your contractor continues to insist, make an appointment with the plumbing inspector assigned to your project and ask him to detail the page and paragraph in the code where its mandated.

    Unless your pipe is corroded to the point of swiss cheese, I wouldn’t bother. As you said, the true source of the lead problem, the water mains in the street and the laterals to the house aren’t being changed. Replacing your service line isn’t going to reduce the lead in the water at all.

    In the end, all you’ve done is contibuted more to the economy by paying for more plumbing work.

    Lastly, and I can’t believe it needs to be said. DON’T drink DC water. After all the brohaha WASA went through with EPA, the tripling of water rates in 2 years to pay for what we thought was a federally mandated city wide pipe replacement (only to peter out 2 years later…even though the water rates never went back down), because the lead rates in the water were multiple levels over safe, anyone who drinks DC water is asking for it. There are $20 and $30 dollar lead testing kits out there. Buy one and see what your lead levels are.

    Bottled water is pretty cheap (if you buy it by the gallon). Don’t be fooled into thinking anything you do with the last few feet of pipe into your house is going to somehow negate the thousands of linear feet of lead pipe leading up to it.

    • Pur and Brita filters effectively remove over 90% of lead. I think that’s safe.

      • How much is that remaining 10%? Lead is persistent and bioaccumulative. Are the post-Brita amounts so low that we really need not worry?

        • WASA/DC Water/whatever they’re calling themselves these days tests for lead at customer’s taps – not before it leaves one of the treatment sites. The current federal standard for lead in drinking water is 0.015 mg/L. From 2005-2009, DC water has been well below that level. In the first half of 2009, it was 0.006 mg/L; in the second half, 0.007 mg/L.

          We have a child who’s 1.5. Starting around this time last year, we were mixing his formula with Brita water. As of last spring, he started guzzling his bath water (because he can, I guess). He drinks a ton of water at daycare each day and I’m pretty sure it’s straight DC tap water – no filter. And he drinks a lot of Brita water at home. His lead blood test, required at 1 for all DC kids, was under 1 ug/dL. The level of concern is 10ug. AND we have chipping lead paint in our house.

          That’s long way of saying that I think joker’s comment is a bit of overkill about potential lead risks.

          • And here’s the EPA info on lead in DC drinking water:


          • My experience has been exactly the same. Between seeing the actual water data (quoted above) and my childrens’ unchanging and unproblematic blood test results after drinking DC tap water over a couple of years, I have given up worrying about this.

            There are plenty of bigger problems out there. Like dead bodies in the alleys.

          • I am glad your kid isn’t having problems, but I think the bigger and most pointed issue is that lead tests are REQUIRED as you said, for DC kids at the age of 1 yr, the only city in the nation where that is true.

            Also, the only city EPA direct links to on their “Lead in Drinking Water Page” for additional information…you got it, the District of Columbia.


            Like I said, I am glad your child is thus far fine, but considering the evidence, and concern by the feds I think drinking DC water is a pretty bad idea.

            And to my original point, it does no good to replace the last few feet of pipe into your house when the thousands of feet of water mains leading to your house haven’t been.

          • Joker, are you completely ignoring the actual test results from the last several years on DC drinking water on the EPA site? If you actually “consider the evidence” and the “concern by the feds,” there’s nothing to be concerned about.

    • dreas,

      The same EPA that told DC residents in 2003 there was absolutely no problem with the water, until 2004 when all shit hit the fan and EPA and DCWASA had to do a mea culpa as the lead levels in the city were beyond the sale level of .015mg? Is this the same EPA that told the District Dept of Health in 1995 that despite the long buried munitions leaking in the ground in Spring Valley DC, there were no unsafe levels of toxins in the ground…until they had to do another mea culpa two years later when the Corps of Engineers admitted there were severe levels of toxins in the soil?

      Is this is the same EPA that promised for years that all the people working at the Twin Towers were safe and there was absolutely nothing wrong with the air, all to have it end in nearly a billion dollar settlement to the suit filers?

      Hey…I am not a gov hating conspiracy guy, but considering the track record and the evidence to the contrary, taking EPA’s word as gospel, especially on local matters isn’t advised.

      Now to the quasi anecdotal evidence. I live in “tony” GT, one of the first places then DCWASA started tearing up streets to replace lead lines back in 2004.

      I test mine every year with an off the shelf testing kit. It varies between .007mg/l and .011mg/l. My supply laterals to the street are new (15 years ago) so that isn’t the problem. A friend of mine who lives in Cleveland Park tests his water yearly and it goes from .006mg/l to .013mg/l. Both mine and my friends are consistantly higher than the generalized “lead level” EPA advertises for the entire city. Which, is obviously not suprising because where you geographically test will determine what the lead levels are.

      Like I said, feel free to drink the water, and I am glad its not caused your child any ill effects. I would just recommend you buy a home testing kit and test your own water once before taking the EPA results as gospel and writting me off as a loon.

  • Prince of Petworth Readers,

    Lead in drinking water is an issue that affects individual District homes. Lead can enter water after it leaves the distribution system and passes through lead service lines or internal plumbing and fixtures that contain some elements of lead. Drinking water delivered throughout the District is lead-free, and water mains in the distribution system are not sources of lead.

    If you have a lead service line and household galvanized plumbing, lead can release from the service line and accumulate in the corroded scales of the galvanized pipes. Galvanized pipes are known to have fragile inside walls and can release lead particles. These particles can cause lead levels to sporadically spike in your drinking water. We recommend that customers replace lead service lines and household galvanized plumbing. If you replace your lead service line and do not replace your galvanized plumbing, lead can continue to release in your water until all galvanized pipes are removed from your home.

    We commissioned a study on galvanized plumbing in 2009, which you can read here:

    It is not required that residents replace lead service lines or household plumbing; however, we recommend that sources of lead are removed to minimize potential lead exposure. DC Water offers to replace the public portion of a lead service line when a customer chooses to replace the private portion. A customer can select the same contractor to replace the entire service line, if preferred. It’s most important that the full lead service line is replaced because science has shown that lead levels can increase in drinking water when only a portion of the lead service line is replaced.

    If pipe replacement is not an option, we recommend you filter your water for drinking and cooking. Be sure to select a filter that is certified to meet the standard for lead removal, which is NSF-53. It’s important to note that most pitcher-style filters are not certified to meet the new standard, so be sure to check with the manufacturer.

    DC Water also offers free lead testing for District residents. To request a lead test kit or if you have questions about lead service line replacement, contact (202) 787-3400. You can learn more about District lead levels in the DC Water Annual Drinking Water Quality Report, available at For additional information or questions on water and lead, contact the Drinking Water Division at (202) 612-3440.

    Lastly, bottled water is not subject to the same numerous and rigorous federal standards as tap water. The report referenced above is required of all municipal water systems, and we mail it annually to every address in the District. Bottled water companies do not generally make this information public.

    District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water)
    Office of Public Affairs

    • saf

      “DC Water offers to replace the public portion of a lead service line when a customer chooses to replace the private portion.”

      Can you explain who to contact to get this to happen? We had a GREAT deal of trouble getting this done a year ago. It’s VERY hard to find accurate information on this program, and we found it even harder to get WASA to work with us on this.

      • saf, sorry you’ve been having trouble. We are actually in the process of reworking all of our information about the replacement program from the ground up to make it easier to understand.

        Please feel free to give us a call at (202) 787-3400, or simply email your contact info to publicaffairs at dcwater dot com and we’ll get in touch with you. Thanks for your patience!

        • saf

          Thank you, but we did finally get it done after several days with a big hole in the yard when the WASA contractor didn’t show up, several go-rounds of “we never said we would do this,” “That program has been eliminated,” “We never approved you for this program,” and “No houses on your block can be done until it is repaved. Repaving is not currently scheduled.”

          When we did get in touch with someone at public affairs, they were very pleasant, but dealing with the people who were supposed to be making the plumbing happen was challenging. They were not directly rude to us, they just DIDN’T want to do it, lost all our information, and then accused us of making up our approval for replacement. Eventually a supervisor made it happen, but he made it plain that they were doing it to get me to shut up and go away, and that they didn’t believe we had done our paperwork properly or had ever been told we could replace the line.

  • Galvanized pipe, I believe, is not a health hazard.
    However, when I moved into my house in CH many years ago the house had galvanized pipes and virtually no water pressure. I had all the pipe replaced with copper.
    Terrific water pressure.
    OK. it was 30 years ago.
    If you can afford to replace the galvanized it would be a good idea.

  • blester01

    Has anyone used the new PEX plumbing lines in their house?

    We will be doing a major renovation/ addition to our Petworth rowhouse in a few years. I am an Architect and it comes highly recommended from the contractors that I have worked with for projects of mine on the west coast. However, I am curious to know if people have started using it here in DC in the renovation of their homes. I like the fact that the lines are less susceptible to freezing than the copper and they are supposed to have a longer lifespan.

    In case you haven’t heard of it here is a what it looks like installed:

    Comparing PEX and Copper:

  • not to nitpick but the picture is of scaffolding.

  • I tested my water for lead when I bought my house in Park View and it was 0.011 mg/L. I use PUR faucet mounted water filters.

  • Prince of Petworth Readers,

    For clarification –

    EPA is the regulatory authority for the District of Columbia and therefore posts information directly to its website about water quality in the District. The District is unlike other utilities in which a state primacy agency is responsible for enforcing federal drinking water regulations.

    A water main and a water service line are known as two different types of pipes. Water mains are pipes in the distribution system that deliver water throughout the city and are not made of lead. A water service line is the pipe that connects the water main in the distribution system to your household water connection, and may be made of lead. Replacing a lead service line is effective in minimizing potential lead release in your drinking water.

    Galvanized plumbing is only a potential source of lead in homes that have, or have had, a lead service line. If you have household galvanized plumbing and never had a lead service line, galvanized pipes are are not a lead source but may cause water pressure and discolored water issues.

    As always, feel free to give us a call if you have additional questions – (202) 612-3440.

    District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water)
    Office of Public Affairs

    • Thank you for the clarification that the mains are not made of lead. It sounds like this replacement, if I can afford it, is a no-brainer (no pun intended). (Lead public & private line w/ galvanized piping into house that later transitions to copper)

      • saf

        Do it. We did and after all the headaches it was worth it for the improved water pressure, improved water quality, and not worrying about having to do it later. (We had extremely high lead levels in our water when tested. This made SUCH a difference.)

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