Is Tap Water Safe to Drink in San Francisco? Debunking Myths and Facts

If you live in San Francisco, you might have heard some rumors about your tap water that it is not safe to drink. This might have left you wondering about the water quality coming out of your faucets. 

So, is tap water safe to drink in San Francisco?  Well, yes. San Francisco water is subject to stringent quality regulations. These ensure that it meets the standards set by the federal governing bodies for human consumption. What’s more, this water is tested over 100,000 times each year. However, the water still contains traces of contaminants that are majorly insignificant.

In this article, we will answer all your questions regarding the safety of tap water in this city. We will also provide some insights on how you can improve the quality of this water. 

Is Tap Water Safe to Drink in San Francisco? Exploring the Yes Answer

Below are reasons why you should not be worried about the quality of water in this city:

1. Stringent Quality Regulations

As mentioned earlier, your water tap in this city is subject to very rigorous quality regulations. The water undergoes multiple checks to ensure it meets these regulations before it is released to your tap.

Speaking of regulations, they are set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). They touch on factors like microbiological contaminants, the use of disinfection products, radioactive elements, and so on.

Further, there is also a Federal Clean Water Act in place. This act safeguards water from pollution before it is treated and sent to your tap.

Is Tap Water Safe to Drink in San Francisco Exploring the Yes Answer

2. Robust Water Cleaning and Treatment Processes

The San Francisco water treatment plant employs advanced processes to purify that tap water. By the time you get the liquid, it will have undergone coagulation and sedimentation to remove particles. Hence, it won’t have stones and foreign materials.

It also undergoes filtration and disinfection. This keeps away finer particles and eliminates bacteria and pathogens.

3. Vigilant Oversight and Monitoring

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) does over 100,000 tests of its water per year. This gives an average of 274 tests per day. With such testing frequency, the water in your tap complies with the set standards.

Trained professionals conduct tests in various areas of the city. The test checks for lead, quinoline, poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and other harmful chemical compounds.

4. Investment in a Safer Infrastructure

The city water commission actively invests in new technologies to enhance the safety of the tap water in your house. This includes regular maintenance, pipe replacements, and system upgrades to minimize contamination.

Further, SFPUC stopped using lead pipes. This reduces the risk of lead making it to your tap water.

5. Source Protection and Preservation

California and the Federal government make dedicated efforts to safeguard the origin of your water supply. Some of the efforts include erosion control, green infrastructure projects, watershed management regulation, and so on.

With these efforts, there will be few chemicals and contaminants before the water is treated.

Why You Might Want to Avoid Drinking San Francisco Tap Water

Below are some of the concerns with San Francisco tap water:

1. Historical Concerns

There are a couple of past incidents which almost led to contamination of tap water. The first major incident was about a decade ago when there was an accidental spill. Three million gallons of sewage spilled into San Francisco Bay at that time.

In 2021, hackers targeted one of their treatment plants and tried to poison the drinking water. They did so by gaining access to their team viewer account. With this account, they had remote access to the water treatment programs. They deleted these programs from the servers. This wasn’t discovered until the next day, putting to question the safety of tap water that day. Following the targeting, the facility changed its passwords and reinstalled the programs.

2. Traces of Harmful Contaminants

Even though tap water goes through rigorous treatment, it still has traces of contaminants that are harmful. Here are the toxins found in this water, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG):

  • Carbon Tetrachloride: This is a byproduct of water treatment. It has been associated with liver cancer and kidney damage. The content of your tap water is below the regulated maximum. However, it is dangerous even in small quantities.
  • Chromium (Hexavalent): This compound is unregulated. This means it has no legal limit specified for your tap water. Exposure to the chemicals from drinking water has been linked to small intestines and colon cancer.
  • Haloacetic Acids (HAA5 and HAA9): These are formed when disinfectants react with components in drinking water. The compounds have been linked to liver and bladder cancers.
  • Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs): These chemicals have not been researched deeply. But there is evidence that they lead to several conditions like liver damage, dizziness, fatigue, testicle damage, and so on. Further, they are thought to cause bladder, rectal, and liver cancer.

The tap water also contains other insignificant components such as aluminum, fluoride, manganese, chlorate, and strontium. 

However, all the above chemicals do not have any major effects on your body. You should rest easy knowing that the authorities mean well to you and themselves (most use the same water). If they discovered any chemical that causes major effects in your body, they would surely regulate it to safe amounts.

How to Make San Francisco Tap Water Safer for Drinking?

Here is how to make this water safer:

  • Stay informed: Regularly check the news, reports, and other updates from the authorities. Stay aware of any contamination incidents to avoid ingesting toxins.
  • Use water filters: Purchase filters that have activated carbon. This compound eliminates odor, several heavy metals, and other toxins.
  • Be part of conservation efforts: Do not do anything harmful that contributes to contaminating underground or surface water. This is the same water that is pumped to your taps. Avoid spilling oils and chemicals into water sources.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to questions that will come up in the process of reading the above:

Q: Is Bottled Water Safer than San Francisco Tap Water?

No. The bottled type is overseen by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Tap water is managed by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). The water from your taps has undergone more vigorous tests than that bottled one.

Q: Can I Test the Safety of my Tap Water?

Yes. Just purchase water testing kits. They are available on most online platforms from $17. You can also take a sample to any laboratory and have it tested for a fee.

Q: How Does the Water Quality in San Francisco Compare to Other Cities?

The level of quality is the same. This is because they have the same regulating body, the EPA. However, the quality will vary slightly since the water comes from different sources.


The above information raises the question, is tap water safe to drink in San Francisco? This water is safe and undergoes rigorous tests to ensure it does not have life-threatening substances. Adding to this safety are the advanced treatment methods and water conservation rules in place.

The journey to make tap water safer is still an ongoing pursuit. It even requires your input as a resident in this area. This starts with proper disposal of waste and using eco-friendly chemicals.

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