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Spring Valley Water Company, Lake Merced 1903
Spring Valley Water Company, Lake Merced 1903. San Francisco’s water supply prior to the Hetch Hetcy dam came from the western side of the city.

How Safe is SF’s Aquifer Water?

Can we drink it?

• • • • • • • March 2024 • • • • • • •

Glenn Rogers
Glenn Rogers

For decades, San Francisco has used solder with equal amounts of lead and tin in the copper pipe that provides potable water. In 1974-1980, the United States decided that lead should be banned in solder and flux in plumbing applications for drinking water use, per the Safe Drinking Water Act. As we look forward into the future, we should note what happened in Flint, Michigan. That water disaster was caused by lead leaching into the potable water supply coming from the Flint River. Flint's water was formerly from Lake Huron. The water in the Flint River had more salt, causing the leaching of lead into the drinking water from antiquated pipes. San Francisco, as well as Flint, Michigan, is anticipating a new water source.

Flint Michigan's Drinking water
Water coming out of the tap, different levels of pollution in each bottle of water at different time intervals, water distribution pipes and the different colors of the patina from the salt in the water from Flint, Michigan.

Fortunately, San Francisco does not require salt to deice roads, which is common in Michigan. However, if we over-tax our ground aquifers, we could draw salt from the Pacific Ocean into our drinking water. Should this occur, we could have a similar problem to those living in Flint, Michigan.”


Fortunately, San Francisco does not require salt to deice roads, which is common in Michigan. However, if we over-tax our ground aquifers, we could draw salt from the Pacific Ocean into our drinking water. Should this occur, we could have a similar problem to those living in Flint, Michigan. To avoid the poisoning of our water, we must add orthophosphates to our potable water supply. This addition will provide a protective layer over any lead pipe or copper pipe with 50/50 percent lead and tin in the solder. The addition of this chemical will become a necessary maintenance factor from this time forward. Without this chemical, the protective layer inside the pipe will diminish, and lead will become a factor. Once the leaching occurs in our water, it will take time for the protective layer inhibiting lead to be replaced. Salt is not among the contaminants the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) researches. Therefore, orthophosphate has not been added. "Since even small amounts of lead have been found detrimental to health as a potent neurotoxin,[11] lead in plumbing solder was replaced by silver (food-grade applications) or antimony, with copper often added, and the proportion of tin was increased (see lead-free solder)." Wikipedia.


The SFPUC has determined that the aquifer on the west side of San Francisco contains high-quality groundwater available for potable supply. On the east side of San Francisco, the water is recognized as unsuitable for consumption — with 7% of the water being highly salty and 37% being moderately salty. That means east-side groundwater will only be used for non-potable applications.

Groundwater Basins
Groundwater basins in San Francisdo have various contaminants.


Daly City claims to use its aquifer primarily for potable consumption. The Lake Merced Golf Club uses recycled water for the maintenance of its lawn. That's not unlike the Olympic Club, the TPC Harding Park and the Golden Gate Park Golf Course on the west side of San Francisco, which all use recycled water for lawn maintenance. However, to keep the lawns green, fertilizer must be applied judiciously. Over-fertilizing means it ends up in our drinking water.


Only 3% of the world's water is said to be fresh or non-polluted. Scientists believe this will become a problem in the future. That's because more and more drinking water is being polluted, often with salt. Also, freshwater fish depend on clean water. Adding to this crisis is the fact that rainfall and snow are diminishing due to Climate Change. With less fresh water present, even small amounts of pollution become harmful. In 2004, 40% of the salt in the United States was used to deice roads. We need to find a less contaminating deicer.


The SFPUC decided to go forward with the San Francisco Water Project because they feared an earthquake could damage the infrastructure that brings water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to San Francisco. 

David Romero, who writes for the Westside Observer, fears that the same earthquake could also damage the drainage system for the soccer fields. Unfortunately, in their planning, they did not consider what an earthquake could do to the drainage system for the 7 acres of artificial turf at the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields. During the rain, the water is piped to the sewer system for cleaning since the water contains countless toxins from the rubber crumbs under the artificial turf. Sadly, when storms occur too severe to treat this toxic water, the water is discharged untreated into the ocean. Planning for an earthquake by providing groundwater in a ‘pinch’ with potentially poisoned water due to a leak from the drainage system beneath the soccer fields is folly.

Glenn Rogers, RLA
Landscape Architect / License 3223

March 2024

Glenn Rogers
Glenn Rogers

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