Drinking water of a million Californians fails to meet state requirements

Almost 400 suppliers, two-thirds in communities of color, don’t meet safety and reliability standards. Fixing them would cost billions.

Almost 400 water systems serving nearly a million Californians don’t meet state requirements for safe and reliable drinking water supplies — and fixing them would cost billions of dollars.

More than two-thirds of these failing water systems serve communities of color, and more than half are in places struggling with poverty and pollution, according to an annual assessment released today by the State Water Resources Control Board.

These water systems, as of Jan. 1, failed to provide water “which is at all times pure, wholesome, and potable,” as required. Some violated drinking water standards for chemicals, bacteria, taste or odor. Others rely on bottled water, or have failed to meet treatment, monitoring or other requirements.

Even more Californians, around 1.54 million, are served by hundreds of water systems considered at risk of failing, state officials said, and nearly 144,000 wells were threatened by encroaching contaminants and shortages.

Failing water systems span the state — from tiny Del Norte County on the Oregon state line to San Diego and Imperial counties near the border with Mexico. They cluster densely in the Central Valley and along the Central Coast, where groundwater overuseagricultural chemicals and smaller, struggling water systems collide — particularly in lower income communities of color.

“It’s a moral outrage. It’s unconscionable in a state that has so many resources that we can’t ensure that everybody has access to the human right to water,” said Kyle Jones, policy and legal director with the Community Water Center. “Folks shouldn’t have to suffer health impacts or added cost to have access to something that most of us take for granted and can get daily.”

The price tag for ensuring safe, affordable and accessible water supplies for all Californians is staggering — an estimated $16 billion over the next five years — as the state grapples with a multibillion-dollar deficit.

Without more state or federal funding, most of the total — around $13.9 billion — may fall on local communities and well owners, according to the report. That means some of the people least able to afford it will end up paying more for water.

The number of failing systems — and the cost of fixing them — is likely to climb as water suppliers must meet new state and federal standards for hexavalent chromium, the contaminant made infamous by the movie “Erin Brockovich,” as well as pervasive forever chemicals.

“It’s a moral outrage. It’s unconscionable in a state that has so many resources that we can’t ensure that everybody has access to the human right to water.”

Kyle Jones, the Community Water Center

“The subtext of this report is pretty clear,” said Greg Pierce, director of UCLA’s Human Right to Water Solutions Lab, who commended the water board’s transparency and extensive analysis. “The state just needs to put its money where its mouth is.”

It’s been 12 years since California became the first state in the country to recognize clean, safe, affordable and accessible drinking water as a human right. Today about 98% of Californians are served by water systems that meet state standards.

Yet despite California’s reputation as an economic powerhouse and climate leader, the state has long struggled to ensure safe drinking water for all — especially those in rural, disadvantaged communities. Californians relying on household wells, for instance, are beyond the state’s regulatory reach.

The annual assessment comes from the water board’s Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience (SAFER) drinking water program, established by state law in 2019. Nearly a billion dollars has been spent on grants in disadvantaged communities.

The list of failing water systems typically hovers between 380 and 400, state officials said. And nearly every year, with only a couple of exceptions, more water systems have been added to the “failing” list than removed.

Still, about 283, or 42% of 715 systems that were on the list, came off between 2017 through 2023. About 700,000 more people have safe water than in 2019, according to the water board.

But the pace of ensuring safe drinking water is too slow, the state auditor said in a report lambasting the water board two years ago. It “has funding available to help these failing systems improve the quality of their drinking water. Nonetheless, the board has generally demonstrated a lack of urgency in […]

Full article: mavensnotebook.com