How Austin Water is Keeping the Lead Out
Austin is very fortunate to have extremely low occurrences of lead in drinking water when compared to other parts of the country. Our source waters (Lake Austin and Lake Travis) contain no lead, and there is no lead in our treated drinking water. Rest assured, Austin Water consistently meets all state and federal drinking water standards and monitoring requirements for lead.
Austin Water is an industry leader and proactive environmental steward, adopting many successful practices to improve water quality well ahead of others.
Since the 1920s, Austin Water has used a lime softening treatment process and produces noncorrosive and scale-forming water. It forms a protective scale on the inside of pipes that prevents materials such as lead and copper from leaching out and into the water.
Additionally, more than 30 years before federal bans went into effect, Austin instituted local bans prohibiting lead in plumbing. This kicked off a multi-year effort to replace lead service lines through normal maintenance activities and water line rehabilitation projects. When, on occasion, lead is detected in our customer’s taps, it is almost always due to contamination from private plumbing and fixtures.
- Austin Water's Action Plan
Austin Water has been proactively implementing many successful strategies to prevent lead exposure. This timeline provides a snapshot of Austin’s efforts to “Get the Lead Out.”
- 1954 - Austin banned the use of lead water service pipelines on the public side of our water distribution system.
- 1960s - Austin Water’s voluntary efforts were well underway to replace lead service lines through normal maintenance activity and water line rehabilitation projects.
- 1967 - Austin banned the use of lead piping in private side plumbing.
- 1980s - Austin Water began serving as a partner in the Clean Rivers Program - as part of newly implemented Highland Lakes water protections - implementing initiatives that protect raw water quality of the lakes and streams within our jurisdiction.
- 1986 - The federal government banned the use of leaded pipe and solder in new plumbing systems. Federal regulations have been continually refined, making the definition of “lead-free” materials even more conservative over time.
- 2016 - Austin Water began a comprehensive record review and material inventory of all public service water lines.
- There are currently no lead lines in service.
- Lead materials such as small connectors and fittings, of which there are few, have been replaced upon discovery.
- Field verifications are ongoing and will be completed in 2024.
- Lines serving schools and licensed daycares were prioritized. No lead was detected.
- 2023 - Austin Water began a collaboration with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to promote voluntary lead testing in schools and childcare facilities around the central Texas area.
- 2024 - Coming Soon
- Austin Water will complete and make publicly available an inventory of public service line materials as well as private-side indicators.
- Plans will be laid out for proactively replacing galvanized lines which may contain risk of lead contamination and any discovered lead service lines.
- Austin Water will begin outreach, education, and coordination for lead testing of drinking water taps at schools and childcare facilities we serve to identify any sources of lead in the building plumbing.
Get the Lead Out of Private Plumbing
Lead sources are often found in plumbing systems on the property owner’s side of the meter. Although a property owner may have lead piping or fixtures, it does not necessarily mean they are exposed. Austin Water’s lime softening process helps coat pipes and prevent corrosion that could leach lead into drinking water, even on the private side. However, it is a good strategy to identify and replace potential sources of lead on private property. Austin Water can provide free water testing resources, and a private plumber can advise on the type of pipes in your home.
- Understanding Your Water Service Plumbing
While Austin Water is taking proactive steps to identify and replace potential sources of lead in the public water distribution system, property owners are responsible for identifying and replacing lead piping inside the home and along their property out to the water meter.
- Learn more about Sources of Lead
If there is no lead in Austin’s source waters and no lead in our treated drinking water, where else could lead come from? It is possible for lead to enter water through corroding pipes found in public water service lines and home plumbing. While our water chemistry provides some protection against such corrosion, there are other environmental factors at play.
Some common sources of lead can include pipes, solder, brass plumbing fixtures, faucets and pipe fittings. These lead sources are more likely to be found in homes built before 1986.
In Austin, these lead sources are less common than many other major cities across the United States since Austin stopped allowing lead pipe in private construction in 1967. Your property’s build date can be found at your county’s property tax assessor. For information about properties in Travis County, visit the Travis Central Appraisal District website.
- Reducing Lead Risk Exposure
Austin Water is proactively mitigating potential lead sources in the public water distribution system and providing optimized water quality. However, you can further reduce exposure to lead by:
- Flush your pipes by running water one to two minutes.
- NOTE: Flushing is important because the longer water is exposed to lead pipes or lead solder, the greater the possible lead contamination. Before drinking, flush your home’s pipes by running the tap, taking a shower, doing laundry, or doing a load of dishes.
- Use only cold water for drinking or cooking.
- Clean faucet screens or aerators frequently.
- Use a filter certified to remove lead.
- Have you water tested and your private plumbing inspected.
- Flush your pipes by running water one to two minutes.
- Protecting Schools and Childcare Facilities
There are no federal or state regulations that require schools and childcare centers to test for lead in the water at their buildings and facilities. However, there are FREE voluntary programs available now through TCEQ.
- Schools and childcare facilities should become familiar with the EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water
- New federal regulations will require most public water utilities, including Austin Water, to initiate a phased testing program starting fall of 2024.
- Note that Austin Water prioritized the investigation of public lines serving schools and licensed daycares in its material inventory. No lead was detected.
If you think your plumbing and fixtures may contain lead, testing can identify whether lead has leached into your water.
For free water testing, call Austin Water at 512-972-0153 or 512-972-2133.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality also offers free sampling and analysis for lead in drinking water at schools and childcare facilities. Visit the TCEQ website for complete details or view the TCEQ webinar to learn more.
Information on lead in drinking water, testing methods, and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from the Safe Drinking Water Hotline 800-426-4791 or epa.gov/safewater/lead. Check out these resources on lead poisoning prevention.
- Texas Commission on Environmental Quality - Voluntary Lead Testing in School & Child Care Program
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: Lead in Drinking Water Information
- U.S Environmental Protection Agency: 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Lead and Copper Rule
- Code of Federal Regulations: Control of Lead and Copper
- Texas Department of State Health Services
- Lead Poisoning Prevention at Home (traviscountytx.gov)
- Lead In Water (drinktap.org)