Water pressure increase to boost lead risk at some Northwest properties

Water pressure is slated to increase at several thousand D.C. homes. (Brian Kapur/The Current/November 2017)

A water pressure increase at the Fort Reno Pumping Station began to take effect Monday in a two-week project that will impact about 5,000 Northwest properties — and also risks increasing lead concentration at some residences.

Properties within the 4th High West Water Service Area — a sprawling, meandering area that includes sections of Chevy Chase, Friendship Heights, Tenleytown, Cleveland Park, Cathedral Heights and Wesley Heights, among others — will see a pressure increase.

Higher water pressure will improve fire protection, allow for shorter showers and enable customers to operate several appliances simultaneously, the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority wrote in an email to The Current on Tuesday. Residents with low to average pressure will notice an increase immediately.

“In recent years, there has been great community concern regarding low water pressure in sections of Wards 3 and 4,” DC Water’s website states. The water authority wrapped up a six-year rehabilitation project on the Tenleytown pumping station this past summer that intends to improve water quality, system reliability and water pressure.

However, higher pressure also leads to an increased release of lead at properties with even traces of the material in their service pipes.

According to DC Water, lead service lines are tracked on a map accessible at dcwater.com/servicemap.

Fort Reno is home to a pumping station serving a swath of Northwest. (Brian Kapur/The Current/November 2017)

“The District/DC Water has collected pipe material data for service lines based on permit records, water main tap records, meter records, and maintenance, repair and replacement work,” DC Water’s email states.

The Tenleytown pumping station’s water pressure is slated to increase by a total of 11 pounds per inch by Nov. 16. When efforts wrap up, many homes will have water pressure of more than 80 psi, a high rating under DC Water standards.

To notify residents about the issue, DC Water distributed pamphlets to the 5,000 affected properties. Officials also encouraged customers projected to have pressure exceeding 80 psi to install a pressure reducing valve that meets local plumbing codes. DC Water is also providing water filters and a six-month supply of replacement cartridges to properties that have or once had a lead service pipe.

DC Water urged residents with service pipes that either have or previously had any lead to take various precautionary measures to avoid ingesting lead-contaminated water. Officials advised these residents to filter tap water for drinking and cooking; flush out faucets by removing and cleaning their aerator screens; ensure plumbing is in working order; and avoid hot tap water for drinking and cooking use because heat dissolves contaminants and may facilitate a buildup of metals, sediment and bacteria. Pregnant women and children under age 6 in the lead-affected homes are advised to only use filtered tap water until all sources of lead in drinking water have been removed.

Residents can test their water for free using a kit provided by DC Water, although officials said the results would be most meaningful several months from now. To request a free lead test kit, contact 202-354-3600.

Chuck Elkins, a Wesley Heights advisory neighborhood commissioner, expressed concerns about the project, saying that DC Water should distribute filters to every residence within range of Fort Reno rather than simply those with known histories of lead pipes.

“DC Water decided not to spend the money to give every one of us a filter who are getting the pressure increase,” Elkins wrote in a note on Nextdoor, an online neighborhood forum. “I went up to the top of DC Water yesterday to try to change their mind about this, but they are sticking to their guns even though they cannot assure the rest of us that we won’t have a Pb problem.”

Questions about the water pressure project should be directed to DC Water at 202-787-7659 or pzip4thhigh@dcwater.com.