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Two weeks after state officials released data showing the city of San Diego doesn’t know whether 192,000 of its water pipes are made of lead, city officials said they have quickly worked to narrow down that number.

Now, city officials say they believe only about 3,000 pipes, at most, could possibly be made of lead.

They also believe that few, if any, actually contain the toxic metal.

This could give some relief to water customers alarmed about leaded water, which became an issue nearly two years ago after several schools starting coming across water quality problems. The source of those problems is thought to be lead plumbing inside schools, but city water department officials said they had no lead pipes.

Last week, following the release of a new database by the State Water Board, Voice of San Diego and NBC San Diego reported that city officials had misled the public about a potential source of lead in the water. The state data showed that city reported 192,000 of its pipes were made of unknown materials.

Now, following that attention, the city’s top financial official said that after talking with city engineers, he does not believe the number is nearly so high.

Rolando Charvel, the city’s chief financial officer, said engineers told him that they think only a few thousand pipes that run from city’s big water mains to people’s homes and offices could possibly be made of lead.

That’s because any lead pipes – known as service lines – could only be connected to cast iron water mains, and there’s now only so many cast iron water mains left in the city. The city’s other water mains are made of asbestos cement or plastic.

“The likelihood of there being lead service lines is very, very low,” Charvel said in a telephone interview accompanied by several other city officials, including a water department spokesman, a spokesman for the mayor and a top official who oversees the city’s water department.

The city is already working to replace those cast iron pipes anyway so, in the course of doing that, should soon be able to find and remove any lead pipes it comes across.

There is also supposed to be paperwork that shows many lines are not made of lead, but the city has yet to enter it into a database that it can submit to the state.

“The fact that we have a safe supply of drinking water really shouldn’t be understated,” Charvel said.

If the city can find what all its pipes are made of, that could also save the city a potentially huge amount of money. A new state law requires the city to replace any pipes made from lead or an unknown material. Charvel said he got involved in this issue in the past several days after VOSD and NBC reported the cost of replacing 192,000 unknown pipes could be nearly $1 billion.

Ry Rivard was formerly a reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about water and power.

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