After Tacoma lead concerns, Seattle Public Utilities asks you to run your water for 2 minutes after 6-hour periods of non-use

(UPDATED 8:11 PM with link to information now posted on SPU website)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“We think our water’s safe. Having said that, we’re going to make sure there’s no cause for alarm.”

So said Andy Ryan from Seattle Public Utilities when we talked with him a short time ago about a new round of water testing and investigation that SPU has launched because of a situation in Tacoma involving lead.

The two cities’ water systems are NOT linked, but the situation that Tacoma uncovered MIGHT also be happening in a small part of Seattle’s service area, so SPU is advising a specific precaution: Until they find out for sure if the lead problem is happening anywhere here too, any time you have NOT run the water in your home or business for six hours, turn on a faucet and run it for two minutes before using it.

This is NOT just a West Seattle thing, and NOT related to the rust/sediment situation that led to the flushing that’s been happening here (just last night, we were out with the flushing crew and were starting to work on that update, when we found out about this and found ourselves writing this completely different water-system story instead).

What Tacoma has been doing, Ryan explained, is looking for galvanized-steel service pipes in their system that are connected to water mains with “a piece of lead pipe called a gooseneck.” He says Tacoma, Seattle, and many other cities have some of those goosenecks because their systems are so old. But they don’t know exactly where those goosenecks are – many are near older houses “built before good records were kept,” explained Ryan.

SPU DOES know where the galvanized lines connect to the water mains. There will soon be a map on the SPU website showing where those are – about 2,000 in Seattle, they believe. That will help them accelerate looking for the goosenecks. Ryan said there had already been an effort to replace them when crews found them, and they’ve been trying to find ways to step up the search. Tacoma, he explains, came up with a way to test water inside galvanized-pipe areas to look for heightened lead levels, and that’s what led to the current concerns, after a handful of samples came back. “As soon as we learned about this, we immediately started to figure out what that meant for our system,” Ryan told WSB. “Short answer is – we don’t know (yet).” So they’re launching the same kind of testing in the galvanized lines to see what turns up.

It should be noted, though, that Seattle Public Utilities has already been routinely testing its water for lead and other undesirable metals such as copper, “greatly exceed(ing) regulators’ standards.”


We visited the lab (March photo above) for our recent story about “who’s watching your water?” related to the ongoing effort to reduce the incidences of “brown water” here. (And yet again, if you haven’t followed our coverage, “brown water” does NOT involve lead – it’s basically rust that’s stirred up in the cast-iron water mains, and even visible levels of it are not a health risk. Lead is basically invisible. It has not turned up in Seattle tests, Ryan says.)

Meantime, they’re hoping to get some samples back “really quickly” to see if what Tacoma found “is applicable here.” Since the locations of possible problems aren’t known yet, “we are asking everyone to just be extra cautious – run your water for two minutes if it’s been sitting in the pipe for more than six hours.” That’s being advised out of “an abundance of caution,” he stresses. “Prior to hearing back from Tacoma, we had not considered, nor had regulators considered, these galvanized pipes and gooseneck fittings to be an issue.” There are some differences between how Tacoma and Seattle run their systems, he notes, particularly the treatment methods, which could lead to a different level of corrosion in their pipes, in turn meaning that what’s detected there will NOT turn up here. But they have to find out.


Until you hear otherwise from SPU, follow the “run the water for two minutes after it’s been in the pipes for six hours” advice TFN. Keep watch for a map on their website showing the “general areas of the 9,000 galvanized service lines, maybe four percent of all our service lines. 2,000 of those might have the gooseneck fittings.” (Those fittings used lead because it was more flexible and less likely to break, he explained.)

If you have questions – SPU already has a special phone number: 206-684-5800.

When the aforementioned map, and any other information, is online, we’ll link that here too.

BOTTOM LINE: For now, SPU is asking *everyone* to run their water for two minutes after six hours of non-use. (So, when you wake up, and when you get home from work, if your residence is empty during the day.) That will soon be narrowed down to the 9,000 or so customers who are connected to water mains via galvanized-steel piping. The lead goosenecks are only believed to be in use for a quarter of those connections, but that will be the most difficult thing for SPU to narrow down.

8:11 PM UPDATE: SPU’s website now has information, linked from its left sidebar, which points you to this page. No location information yet on where the city believes it has the galvanized piping that could be connected to the aforementioned lead-containing gooseneck fittings, but it promises, “More information about potentially impacted homes will be posted here soon.”

39 Replies to "After Tacoma lead concerns, Seattle Public Utilities asks you to run your water for 2 minutes after 6-hour periods of non-use"

  • Smokeycretin9 April 21, 2016 (3:31 pm)

    Sounds like Seattle Public Utilities needs some more revenue

    • Joe Szilagyi April 21, 2016 (3:50 pm)

      The second part of your name is fitting today. 

      Let’s please ignore any cretins downplaying the dangers or risks of lead poisoning, especially like this half-baked appeal to anti-government nonsense. 

    • Qbert April 21, 2016 (3:51 pm)

      No kidding – I for one am going to be requesting a refund on my bill for all this nonsense. 

  • dsa April 21, 2016 (4:05 pm)

    How about a break on the water bill at the same time.

    • WSB April 21, 2016 (4:12 pm)

      I should note that Councilmember Lisa Herbold chairs the committee that oversees Seattle Public Utilities. So if you have some more overreaching concern, she would be a good person to voice it to.

  • hopey April 21, 2016 (4:28 pm)

    Thanks for being on top of this!

  • ACG April 21, 2016 (4:29 pm)

    Any idea if the water supply work they did in AH (to fix the water supply issues that were made evident after the house fire) would have also fixed this problem?

  • 935 April 21, 2016 (5:38 pm)

    2 full minutes?? Thats gotta be at least a couple (maybe 4) gallons of water -wasted… 4 gallons at 1.4 million households (per seattle pud’s numbers) equals 5.6 MILLION gallons per 6 hour time frame.

    9000 still equals 36,000 gallons…..wasted….and billed for? At 9000 people, considering the 2 minutes 2 times per day (probably more if you consider the 6 hour layoff), folks – thats an olympic sized swimming pool, every 9 days (or so)

    Good thing the “drought” is over….

    At least this cost will be FAR less than the cost of replacing the goosenecks…..

    • KM April 21, 2016 (6:56 pm)

      You only have to run your faucets for every 6 hours of NON-use, not every 6 hours, right? Not everyone is leaving their water without use for 6 hour stretches, so some people don’t have to worry about this at all.

    • Sevenless April 22, 2016 (8:01 am)

      You can still make use of that water in intelligent ways – for instance, use and flush your toilet (that’s 1.6 or more gallons) before using water for other activities in the morning, and then run the sink for another two minutes and you’ve flushed the pipes without wasting as much water.  If you’re exceptionally concerned about wasting the water, you could even collect it in a jug and pour it into the toilet holding tank after the next time you flush.

  • chemist April 21, 2016 (5:47 pm)

    Summer sewer rates will start in May, so many residential customers won’t end up paying the sewer fees for any extra water (we’re billed based on winter sewer measures with the city presuming summer watering, car washing, etc).

    Though not in any way definitive, an article about this in Tacoma said that they stopped using galvanized pipe connections in the 1930s so that may help moderate panic for some.

  • Julia April 21, 2016 (6:07 pm)

    At the risk of this turning into humor, I wonder how toilet-flushing factors into this. If there’ve been a couple of toilet uses — or a shower — does that “count” or do we still let the kitchen sink run for 2 minutes before making coffee?

    • KM April 21, 2016 (7:59 pm)

      Toilet flushing is use, so it counts in my book. 6 hours of non-use, which generally won’t apply for our family since someone generally uses the bathroom in the middle of the night here, and someone is always home during the day. I’m not seeing the need for panic at this point, I’m sure we’ll hear more soon.

      • WSB April 21, 2016 (8:04 pm)

        There’s finally info on the SPU website – follow the link from the left sidebar:

        I’ll be adding that and the direct link to the bottom of the story momentarily.
        It does not yet seem to include the location of the galvanized-line homes/neighborhoods.

        • KM April 21, 2016 (8:04 pm)

          Oh great, thanks for the link!        

  • Leaden April 21, 2016 (6:09 pm)

    Why such a spotlight on lead concerns by SPU?

    Has there been a change in the water or just a change in the assessment via the Tacoma tests of lead possibly leaching?

     In other words,  we have been using our water from the very same source for the last decade without flushing for two minutes.  Does that mean that we have had indefinite exposure?Do I need an IQ test?

    Also, remember that up until the late seventies virtually all residences had lead in plumbing.  If you have old copper pipes, the solder used was lead.  Those old classic plumbing fixtures like faucets and spouts were also lead laden and eventually banned due to lead leaching. 

  • sam-c April 21, 2016 (6:22 pm)

    That’s two minutes from just one faucet, not every faucet right?  While it would be nice to get a refund for all the water you’re wasting, you could use it to water you plants.

    • WSB April 21, 2016 (6:37 pm)

      SC – Yes, just enough to get the water running in your pipes and run out anything that had been sitting there.

      J – Good question. I’ll see if I can get an answer.

      • Question Mark April 21, 2016 (7:12 pm)

        Certainly flushing the toilet will have just the same effect as running water in the sink. The real question is how many flushes equates to running water for two minutes before drinking any. And it depends on the toilet–some use 3 or more gallons per flush and some use only 1/3 of that.

  • smokeycretin9 April 21, 2016 (6:57 pm)

    Yes Joe, part of my comment was tongue in cheek, but really SPU has some very high water rates for summer.

     Not anti-government at all, more like anti wasting water and anti spending more money on my bills.

  • dsa April 21, 2016 (6:58 pm)

    J is probably correct.  Any *old* wasteful toilet should solve this.

  • Joe Szilagyi April 21, 2016 (7:06 pm)

    Seriously, they know which 2000~ homes are affected! Why not just publish the goddamn at least approximate locations instead of having the ENTIRE CITY waste millions of gallons of water flushing pipes? Or is it worse than they’re saying?

    • WSB April 21, 2016 (7:13 pm)

      They were working on making a map of the galvanized-connection neighborhoods ready for Web publication when I spoke with Andy Ryan.

  • Nw mama April 21, 2016 (9:05 pm)

    Thanks for this useful  information WSB. You are super!

  • Pat April 21, 2016 (9:43 pm)

    Be careful .. Flint lied and poisoned children for life . Seattle politicos are just as interested in their pockets as the cretins in Flint. Be Careful . Buy bottled water … The brain damage is irreversible .

    • Bea Donovan April 22, 2016 (7:55 am)

      Most bottled water is just tap water. Even if it’s “natural”, that doesn’t mean that that “natural” source hasn’t had leaching. All you’re doing is lining the pockets of Coke, Pepsi and Nestle. 

      IF there’s a problem – and we don’t know that yet – we just need to fix it. 

  • H20Saver April 21, 2016 (11:25 pm)

    Just let the water run while you are away. This way when you get back you can drink or bathe immediately. :p

  • heather April 22, 2016 (7:34 am)

    Oh great :/ I just thought I was creative… so much for drinking from the tap to get my fluoride.

  • kna8 April 22, 2016 (8:16 am)

    I collected samples of our water at both the first discharge (after sitting for 6 hours), and after flushing for two minutes.  They will be analyzed for lead and copper, and I will report the results back to WSB if anything is detected.  I live in the Admiral area.  We recently replaced our plumbing with PEX and all new faucets, so if anything is detected it would be from the water system, and not our homes plumbing.

    • Leaden April 22, 2016 (11:17 am)


      I appreciate your response.

       I hope you share the lab test results.

      The only question is whether you also replaced the service line from the meter to your house shut-off?  This is generally not done as part of a home re-pipe and could affect the lead level.

      • kna8 April 22, 2016 (3:34 pm)

        Leaden – we did not, but from what we can tell it is copper, so I suspect not much of an issue.  

    • truthteller April 22, 2016 (3:24 pm)

      Knab thank you for doing this. I have Pex as well and 8 year old fixtures. After what came out of my pipes 3 times in a row and the Utility telling me it was safe I was stunned. I kept samples but don’t have the funds to test right now. I have kids in the house and I’m worried. The Utility repeatedly lied to myself and several neighbors about what they were doing and when. Each of us got a different story. I finally emailed Herbold’s office. They are trying to figure it out but isn’t it SPU’s issue? Why are we in the dark and wondering? Yes, I look forward to my $800.00 water bill after having to flush my tank and lines 3 times because they couldn’t even let me know they were working in my area. Hinds/Belvidere. I have a ruined load of clothes I saved too. I’m so frustrated by this because my utility bill is the single biggest bill I have besides my mortgage and I often can’t pay it. They are right here to shut me off in a second and have many times. We have gone without running water many times. Sign up for their utility discount program? Try it, it’s like giving a rubic’s cube to a 4 year old and say solve it. I would like to know how many people actually get on that program. They make it so hard with hurdle after hurdle. I bet there are 3 people on it. And I bet they all work at SPU

  • me April 22, 2016 (8:21 am)

    Will it really make a difference to run the water for two minutes now?

    I mean if it does have lead, it’s been there for years and we’ve been drinking if for as long as we’ve lived here…

  • miws April 22, 2016 (8:32 am)

    [O/T]Bea Donovan; love your username![/O/T]


    • Bea Donovan April 22, 2016 (8:40 am)

      Thanks! Not many people remember the original “Queen of King” ;-) 

  • me April 22, 2016 (8:33 am)

    You can buy your own water testing kit at Lowes:

    If anyone else does it, I would be interested in knowing the results!

  • wetone April 22, 2016 (9:54 am)

    Seattle has a very old infrastructure, some areas approaching 100yrs. I think if city starts testing and is HONEST with findings they will find many areas that are above todays allowable standards. Any hook up prior to 1950’s would be suspect, and that’s a much bigger number than the 2000 hook-ups city is putting out there.  I doubt city would of ever said anything about this issue if Tacoma had not exposed. Seattle’s government only likes spending money on visual bling, and shows  little care on real issues such as our very tired infrastructure and functionality.  If you want a real eye opener take screen (water restrictor) off faucet and run water for a minute, most likely will see ugly water. Just yesterday I had to replace our water heater (not related to recent water issues) but had much more sediment than I have ever seen before and do believe that is a related issue to current water issues and old city water supply, (house has newer plumbing). I highly recommend people flush water heaters, especially  in areas that have been affected with discoloration.   

    • me April 22, 2016 (10:07 am)

      Yes! That’s why we should each test our own water, testing kits are under $20.

  • Jill April 22, 2016 (5:43 pm)

    kna8 – you want to test the water that is in between what is in the tap when you turn it on and 2 minutes. To test the first water and the last means that it would all be clear.  If there is lead in the water, it will not be in the water that is sitting in your pipes from the street to the house or in your water heater, etc. as that would have been running. And so you run the water for two minutes to bring it to the house and then back to clear water. IF there is any. So suggest you test water at 1 minute. :)

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