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How LA's old pipes impact its tap water

Photo by Ariful Haque Bhuiyan via Flickr Creative Commons

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As Los Angeles residents brace for higher water bills, the LADWP said it's preparing to update the city's crumbling water infrastructure, much of which is over 100 years old. 

The antiquated system is impacting Angeleno's water quality, said UCLA Professor of Environmental Sciences Hilary Godwin.

"If there are cracks in the pipes, then there can be infiltration of water and leakage from the soil into the pipes," she said. "And then we also have to worry about some of the older pipes having lead or lead solder in them that can cause contamination in the water."

Godwin told Take Two's A Martinez she's not surprised LADWP is pushing to update its system and replace many of its pipes. 

"About 44 percent of the water infrastructure in Los Angeles received a 'C' or lower grade, based on pipe age, soil quality and water pressure... from the American Society of Civil Engineers," she said. "It's not too surprising that we're seeing things like water main breaks."

According to Godwin, water authorities in the U.S. typically adjust the water quality to make sure that it's alkaline enough. The hope is that it can in turn help to prevent lead from leaching into the system. They also add chlorine, which helps combat contamination of the water after it leaves the plant where it was treated. 

Still, sometimes contaminants get through.

If homeowners are concerned, they can get reports on the quality of the water that flows to their home, but those don't necessarily reflect what's coming out of the tap.

Those tests are done as the water leaves the treatment plant, and there are plenty of chances for contamination along the way. 

To find out what exactly they're sipping from the faucet, homeowners would have to test the water themselves.

Most common contamination problems can be taken care of with home water filters, Godwin said, but they do miss some major culprits, like arsenic, which can show up in well-water.

Overall, Godwin said, Southern California's tap water is good. Still, it's worth investing in infrastructure and staying vigilant when it comes to keeping water pure, she added.

To hear the entire conversation between A Martinez and Hilary Godwin, click on the audio embedded at the top of this post.