DeLorenzo: San Jose Water keeps lead out of drinking water
San Jose Water regularly tests water sources for any lead. File photo.

There is no safe level of lead in drinking water. Remember the crisis in Flint, Michigan? Or Newark, New Jersey? Old lead water service lines were the culprit. Millions of Americans turned on the faucet and wondered, “What’s in my water?” You may have been wondering, too.

To be clear, there is no lead in the water provided by San Jose Water (SJW). We regularly test all our water sources. We haven’t found any lead service lines in the San Jose metropolitan area, and we’re always looking.

In 2017, we inventoried 234,664 service lines in our system. In this study, we were only looking at the SJW half of service lines that run from the meter to the water main. The other half of the service line is typically the customer’s, running from the meter to the house. We didn’t find lead service lines, but we did occasionally come across something called a “lead gooseneck.”

A lead gooseneck is a small, curved fitting, usually under two feet long. A long time ago, it was used to connect service lines to water mains. Each lead gooseneck we found was on a pipe installed before 1948 and attached between an old cast iron water main and a galvanized iron service line. Not every galvanized iron service line had a gooseneck, but every gooseneck had a galvanized iron service line.

Left undisturbed, goosenecks rarely release lead in our system — a happy consequence of time and our region’s hard water. They’ve been in the ground for decades building up a barrier of minerals that keep the lead on the gooseneck and not in your water. Think of it like a protective crust. Once disturbed, however, particulates from this crust can dislodge, temporarily increasing lead risk in water as it passes through a home’s plumbing.

We knew we had 6,500 pre-1948 service lines still in the ground and could have around 1,000 lead goosenecks connected to them. Armed with this knowledge, we had our targets. Since the cast iron mains involved were old, we decided to schedule them for replacement and, while we’re at it, install new lines made of copper or plastic.

You might have seen us at work in your neighborhood or heard about our calling card: a pitcher filter left on the doorstep with a letter explaining that we replaced a service line that had a lead gooseneck. So, what’s with the filter? It’s a precaution. If the crust was disturbed and lead particles were dislodge, the pitcher filter we provide does a great job of removing or reducing any potential lead that may have entered during the upgrade period.

By October 16, 2024, we’ll be submitting a full inventory of all service line materials (both utility and customer-owned) to the State Division of Drinking Water. Right now, we’re scouring historical plumbing codes and picking through 150 years of records. You might see our teams out “ground-truthing” target areas — we’re peeking inside meter boxes to check service line materials. You might even receive a door-hanger letting you know we’ve checked yours.

What can you do to reduce lead risk? Consider replacing old faucets or fixtures that you drink from at home.  Up until Congress passed the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act in 2011, plumbing products that were considered “lead free” could contain up to 8% lead content. “Old” might be more recent than you think. Additionally, homes built before 1978 are more likely to have lead-based paint, which can chip, peel, or flake. For tips on keeping your family safe from lead, visit the Santa Clara County Health Department Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at

At San Jose Water, we’ll keep searching, tracking, and upgrading service line materials, and we’ll keep testing drinking water — at the source and in homes — until we know we’ve got all the lead out.

To stay updated on our progress, you can access a map at

Suzanne DeLorenzo, Ph.D., is San Jose Water Director of Water Quality 

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