Drinking Water Guidelines

Priority - Protecting Kids from Lead in Drinking Water

State and Federal guidelines require action to be taken if lead is found in drinking water at levels of 15 parts-per-billion (ppb) or higher.

The July 2017 policy implemented in all of our schools required drinking water to meet a strict level of only 5ppb - that is the same standard as the FDA requirement for bottled water. The goal of the policy was to create a plan by 2020 to reduce this level all the way to 1ppb.

 On February 25, 2020, the San Diego Unified Board of Trustees approved a plan to reduce this level to 1ppb at ALL district sites by the year 2024, providing the safest drinking water possible for our students and staff. Simply put, this standard is now the safest, strictest policy in California for protecting children from lead in water.                                                                       

 2020 - Hydration Stations   Hydration Stations

The plan will provide all drinking water through filtered water outlets. This means that many traditional drinking fountains will be replaced with hydration stations - a combination drinking fountain and bottle filling station that has a filter in it. Other drinking fountains on campus will be removed. In elementary classrooms the bubbler in the classroom sink will be removed, the sink and faucet will remain. Filters will also be installed in other areas on campus, such as in the kitchen for food preparation, in the nurses/health office and in staff workrooms/lounge areas. There will be fewer, but higher quality, drinking water outlets across the school campus. 

Hydration stations are already being installed at our school sites. The approved plan will be completed, and all sites will have them by August 2024. Based on the research showing lead ingestion has the greatest impact on the youngest children, we will begin installation at elementary schools, then middle, followed by high schools and administrative sites.

Once the filtered outlets are in place, staff will encourage students to use the hydration stations instead of filling water bottles from the sinks in the classrooms or restrooms. In the event of an emergency, such as an extended lockdown, filling water bottles from the sink is acceptable. 

The City of San Diego provides our water, it is safe and meets regulatory standards. If there is any lead contamination, it is typically coming from the water lines from the street to the water outlet. The filters capture lead and other contaminants are "point of use," which means it is filtered before it comes out. Filters will be changed through planned maintenance, and quality assurance water sampling will continue to monitor filter performance.

As an added benefit, providing bottle filling stations can reduce the number of single use plastic water bottles - helping our environment!

For more information on hydration stations, contact:

 Steve Ditto - Manager, Facilities Planning

(858) 637-3503

[email protected]



Bottled Drinking Water - 5ppb Current San Diego Unified Fountains - 5ppb - Being replaced


"With this new policy, San Diego Unified is taking an important step forward to protect children's health from lead exposure," said Jason Pfeifle, Public Health Advocate with CALPIRG. "They should be applauded. We look forward to working with the district on further steps, including a plan to meet a 1 part per billion standard for lead in drinking water."

The original plan required the retroactive remediation of lead found in exceedance of 5ppb by drinking water sampling conducted by the City of San Diego in April-June 2017, even when those levels met state and federal water quality standards.


Testing results show the vast majority of schools had no water sources with lead levels above the action level.

To ensure all water outlets that may be used for drinking or food preparation met the district’s strict standard, the district sampled all of the remaining water outlets used for human consumption across the entire district and made physical repairs anytime lead was found above 5ppb. Physical repairs included replacement of the fixture, piping replacement, etc.

How did we get here?

At the July 25, 2017 Board of Education meeting, the San Diego Unified School District voted to adopt a visionary drinking water remediation plan. The plan set a strict lead in drinking water action level of 5 parts per billion. This action level is one third of the state and federal government action level of 15 parts per billion and matches the Food and Drug Administration’s standard for bottled drinking water. This stringent lead action level is the lowest among California school districts and established San Diego Unified as a national leader in water quality standards. The goal of the policy was to create a plan by 2020 to reduce this level all the way to 1ppb. You can read the Board presentation here.

By setting the lowest lead action level of any school district in California, the drinking water plan required the remediation of lead identified by drinking water sampling conducted by the City of San Diego in April-June 2017, even when those levels meet state and federal water quality standards. To ensure all water outlets that may be used for drinking or food preparation met the district’s strict new standard, the district sampled all of the remaining water outlets used for human consumption across the entire district.

This sampling project included early childhood education facilities and central offices, which were specifically excluded from the State Water Resources Control Board school sampling program. The district-wide sampling project took three years to complete and initially focused on sites previously identified by the city as having lead levels that met state and federal standards but exceeded the district’s  action level.

Water Testing

San Diego Unified School District follows California State Water Resources Control Board protocol whereby faucets and fountains are sampled after a minimum six hours of inactivity. Samples are collected by trained staff members and delivered to a National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) certified private lab for analysis.

Post-Testing Response

As test results are received, schools and families are quickly notified. Sample results will be posted online and are available for review here.  

Results which exceeded the district’s action level were addressed by Physical Plant Operations (PPO) staff. Upon notification of an exceedance, PPO staff immediately secured the sample point(s) over 5 parts per billion, delivered bottled water if needed, and undertook corrective actions. Corrective actions can encompass fixture replacement, piping replacement, and/or the installation of point-of-use filtration.


Water for all San Diego Unified School District sites is provided by the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department. The city, as a municipal water provider, is required to comply with state and federal regulations and, as such, it conducts numerous water quality tests and produces related reports. The standards of quality for the water it provides are extremely high.

As a result of a December 20, 2016, permit action by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) Division of Drinking Water, all community water providers, including the City of San Diego, are required to test up to five water samples per K-12 school site for lead in drinking water.

District staff met with representatives from the Public Utilities Department to discuss water sampling and formally requested sampling at all sites covered by this permit amendment. All of the water sampling under this program was completed in early June 2017. District staff then developed the water remediation plan which was adopted by the Board of Education on July 25, 2017.


Additional Resources

Media Contact Information

Maureen Magee
Communications Director
[email protected]