Ward 8 D.C. Council candidate Trayon White (D) posted April 26 a photo of brown water at Martin Luther King Elementary. He posted a follow up April 27 announcing the water was clear and DCDGS was conducting tests for harmful contaminants. (Courtesy photo)

Amid a potential crisis in water safety in the District, its leaders and officials at D.C. Water insist everything is being done to treat existing problems and avoid a contamination pandemic as seen in Flint Mich. D.C. Water began flushing water mains April 29, after Ward 8 Council candidate Trayon Martin posted Twitter images of brown water coming from the fountains of Martin Luther King Elementary in Southeast.

Water crews opened hydrants and closed valves to pull water through the system, flush out sediment and clean the pipes. “In this case, it appears the flow of the water caused a temporary discoloring of the water in the school when service was restored,” John Lisle, chief of external affairs for D.C. Water, wrote in an email.

Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) said he would now instruct the Department of General Services to test all water sources at schools for lead, not just water fountains. However, in an interview with the AFRO, Lisle said residents should rest assured that city-wide testing takes place regularly. “The water testing in the public schools is managed by the Department of General Services (DGS) and the results are published on the DGS website. Beyond that, DC Water conducts thousands of water quality tests each year throughout the year,” Lisle said. “That testing is done in homes that are known or believed to have lead service lines. In addition, we offer free lead testing kits to any residents that request them and provide them with the results.”

He said the analysis includes regulatory testing to ensure the city is in compliance with the federal Lead and Copper Rule, and that recent test results show lead concentrations in drinking water at historically low levels. But for residents in older buildings, concerns have arisen over where the buildings’ plumbing and city’s piping issues begin, end and overlap. Ward 8 resident, Zelisha Harvey said, “Testing community schools is one thing, but public housing, restaurants, and other businesses, could also be a problem.”

There are checks and balances, according to D.C. Water, actively in place to address entire communities. “We have a program in place now to replace 1 percent of our water infrastructure (pipes, valves, pumps, etc.) every year at a cost of approximately $40 million annually,” Lisle said. “As part of that program, when we replace water mains, we also replace the lead service lines on the public side and reach out to the property owners to offer them the opportunity to replace the private side at the same time.”

The water at MLK Elementary is now clear, though reports from DCPS say the students will continue to drink bottled water until tests come back showing there are no problems. Lisle said that a wealth of general information is available about lead and other water hazards and treatments, as well as the city’s lead programs, including test results, on D.C. Water’s website. For more information or to request a water test kit, visit their website at dcwater.com/lead.