New data: More than half of California school districts report lead in drinking water

Media Contacts
Josh Chetwynd

SACRAMENTO- As California schools consider best practices for reopening in the fall, they must address the fact that too many have found unacceptable levels of lead in their drinking water. CALPIRG Education Fund released an updated interactive map with results reported from schools. More than 2,100 school drinking water fountains tested positive for lead at 1,300 schools in the state over the past three years, according to a new analysis by CALPIRG Education Fund. 

The problem is widespread with 53 percent of reporting school districts finding lead across urban, rural and suburban districts. 

Based on the most recently reported data, nearly 18 percent of all California schools required to test have still not reported results. It is unclear if they have completed the required testing.

“It is unacceptable to expose children to lead. Now that the results are in we need to do everything we can to get the lead out of school drinking water,” said CALPIRG public health advocate, Laura Deehan.


These totals come one year after the July 1, 2019, deadline for schools to test their drinking water for lead  under a 2017 California law authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez.

“We required water districts to test school drinking water for lead because it’s unacceptable that children and teachers could be poisoned by drinking water from their school fountains,” Assemblymember Gonzalez said. “Now that the results are in, we know where we need to take action to make sure our schools have safe, lead-free drinking water.” 

Several school districts started testing before the law passed and didn’t delay in taking action after they found lead. 

“At San Diego Unified, when we found there was a problem with lead leaching from fountains, we got to work,” said Cindy Marten, Superintendent of SDUSD.  “We tested more than 2,500 taps, addressed the highest risk water fountains first, and then worked on a plan to get rid of all the old fountains and replace them with new filtered hydration stations district wide. That plan was just adopted by the Board of Education in February, and we are proud that San Diego Unified students and teachers will have some of the cleanest drinking water in the country.” 

Clay Elementary in San Diego Unified implemented the model plan and now has lead-free water school-wide. 

 Oakland and Los Angeles Unified school districts have also gone above and beyond what current law requires in order to provide safe drinking water for their students.

Given the gravity of these results, more school districts must take action.

“Fresno Unified cares deeply about the health and safety of our students, and we cannot allow lead, a dangerous toxin, to remain in our drinking water,” said Fresno Unified Trustee Veva Islas. “Now that voters have approved funding for lead remediation through the Measure M school bond, FUSD needs to take further action to get the lead out.”

One factor limiting many schools from implementing plans is a lack of funds. Both San Diego and Fresno voters recently approved school infrastructure bonds necessary to pay for improvements, including lead remediation. But for the school districts around the state without this revenue source, options are limited. Last March, California voters rejected a statewide school bond that would have included funding to get lead out of schools. 

Despite that action, Americans consistently indicate that getting lead out of drinking water should be a priority. For example, a poll released last week by EDF Action found that replacing lead pipes is one of the top priorities of swing state voters.  Today, the House voted in support of funding complete lead service line removal in disadvantaged communities in the infrastructure stimulus bill.



CALPIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing.