San Diego schools on track to implement the state’s strongest clean water drinking plan

Today, CALPIRG joined San Diego Unified to celebrate efforts to provide clean, lead-free water to the over 100,000 students in the district 

Statement from CALPIRG State Director Jenn Engstrom about San Diego Unified School Districts Plan to Address Lead in School Drinking Water

We are thrilled to be here today with San Diego Unified teachers and administrators, as well as representatives from Rob Machado Foundation and the San Diego Loyals to celebrate San Diego Unified’s efforts to implement the strongest clean water drinking plan in California.  

Water is vital to kids’ health.  Even mild dehydration can impair cognitive performance. That’s why it’s so important that children have access to safe drinking water at school, where they go to learn and play, and spend most of their waking hours each day. 

Unfortunately, for decades lead was commonly used in plumbing, which means that many older buildings have pipes and fixtures that can leach lead into our drinking water. 

Lead is highly toxic to children- even exposure to very small amounts is linked to irreversible damage to a child’s brain, and can cause IQ loss, ADHD and anxiety disorders.  

That’s why San Diego Unified was quick to act when they learned in 2017 about the problem of lead in their drinking water. They adopted what was at the time, the strongest standard for drinking water in California, requiring action whenever they found lead exceeding 5 ppb. That’s three times better than the federal standard. Even better, San Diego Unified made a commitment to get to the real gold standard – below 1 ppb district wide, the level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

To provide the cleanest drinking water in the state, San Diego Unified set out to replace old drinking fountains with water bottle filling stations certified to remove lead. These stations not only ensure the water coming out meets that gold standard, they are also proven to increase childhood hydration as kids are more likely to drink water from a nice new water bottle filling station. 

Today we’re here to celebrate the progress of the district-wide plan to get filtered water filling stations in every school so that all San Diego Unified students have access to clean, safe drinking water. 

As we can see from the leadership displayed by San Diego Unified, it is possible to get the lead out and protect children from this preventable toxic exposure. We urge school districts across California and the US to follow San Diego’s example and protect children from this toxic threat.  


Jenn Engstrom

State Director, CALPIRG Education Fund

Jenn directs CALPIRG’s advocacy efforts, and is a leading voice in Sacramento and across the state on protecting public health, consumer protections and defending our democracy. Jenn has served on the CALPIRG board for the past two years before stepping into her current role. Most recently, as the deputy national director for the Student PIRGs, she helped run our national effort to mobilize hundreds of thousands of students to vote. She led CALPIRG’s organizing team for years and managed our citizen outreach offices across the state, running campaigns to ban single-use plastic bags, stop the overuse of antibiotics, and go 100% renewable energy. Jenn lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys spending time at the beach and visiting the many amazing restaurants in her city.