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San Diego Tap Water Quality: Is Chlorine A Concern?

Does the chlorine in San Diego’s tap water make it safe to drink? It depends who you ask. San Diego water is typically kept under the EPA-mandated levels in parts-per-million (PPM). But advocacy groups paint a different picture of the controversial disinfectant.

Because water can travel from far places to make it to your San Diego area home, you might detect a stronger-than-usual taste of chlorine.

The amount of distance water must travel to make it to your tap has a direct impact on how much chlorine your provider needs to use to make sure it is disinfected. Many San Diego residents complain that their tap water tastes bad due to this effect.

The reason for the long travel is the limited resources San Diego has to actual water sources nearby. Because of this, the majority of our water comes from the Colorado River Aqueduct, which is connected to the State Water project in the San Fransisco and Sacramento area.

Every year, San Diego releases an annual water quality report. You can view the latest one here.

Is San Diego Tap Water Safe To Drink?

San Diego tap water is considered, generally, safe to drink. Natural elements, such as rain, can create stormwater pollution, such as the recent issue with the Tijuana River. Landfill waste can also be a problem. The recent Sycamore Landfill concerns in Santee are a prime example.

More About Chlorine in San Diego Tap Water

Think of chlorine water treatment as a giant disinfectant tablet on a massive scale – because that’s effectively what it is.

Adding chlorine to a drinking water source has been popular for more than a century, and continues to be the most cost-effective, dependable method of water disinfection today.

Though this is true, many do not like the taste or smell of chlorine in their water, and furthermore, chlorine itself is a known carcinogen, proven in some forms to be even deadly. Chlorine gas is the first chemical weapon known to have been used in warfare, by the Germans in World War I.

So how can such a harmful substance prove to be so helpful, and should you be concerned with about the chlorine in your San Diego area water?

The Superman of Disinfectants

As a halogen, chlorine water treatment is highly efficient at ridding water of most pathogens – microorganisms in your water that can be harmful to your health.

After storms, your municipal water center may add more chlorine to the water supply to treat potentially larger number of microorganisms due to runoff or sewage discharges. Higher amounts of lead and copper are leached from metal pipes that contain an increased amount of chlorine.

Though chlorine in large doses can produce harmful health effects, the amount in your water is not typically harmful. In addition, chlorine does something other disinfecting methods do not – it provides a residual effect.

After chlorine water treatment, water still may need to travel long distances to storage tanks and distribution systems. In places where water is not used, the chances of pathogen regrowth increases. This can cause a major mess, include slime and biofilms that could contaminate all of the clean water being distributed through the system. The residual effect of chlorine helps to prevent this from happening.

Health Issues Drinking Chlorine

Current studies show that drinking water with a small amount of chlorine does not cause harmful health effects. However, some people are more sensitive than others to chlorine and other environmental differences, and there is a concern of long-term risk due to chronic exposure of trihalomethane, which is a byproduct of the disinfection.

According to a study published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Environmental Health, “drinking water disinfected by chlorine while pregnant may increase the risk of having children with heart problems, cleft palate or major brain defects.”

This has some communities looking at other options. Las Vegas has emulated many European and Canadian cities in switching over to harmless ozone instead of chlorine.

Ozone is effective over a wide pH range and is very powerful, however, there are higher operational costs and it does not have a residual effect.

According to the U.S. Council of Environmental Quality, “Cancer risk among people drinking chlorinated water is 93% higher than among those whose water does not contain chlorine.”

What’s That In My San Diego Water?

While chlorine is safe to drink up to 2 mg/L, it can be smelled easily at anything close to half of that. Sometimes the water can smell or taste over-chlorinated.

Many times, particularly if there is a warm front in the spring, bacteria/algae blooms near the water source makes it necessary to add more chlorine to the water to reduce the growth of microorganisms and keep the bug population low.

What Can I Do?

Point-of-use water filtration is also popular for absorbing chlorine out of the water. While activated carbon can absorb chlorine, disinfection bi-products and organics, these devices are not privy to your specific water situation and can require extensive maintenance. For example, they will NOT filter out fluoride, arsenic, bacteria or viruses.

The best idea for the long run is a reverse osmosis filter, which is like having a bottled water company under your sink. The system requires maintenance; however, Culligan takes care of this for you.


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