Connecting Waterpeople

California’s drinking water needs assessment shows hundreds of failing water systems

  • California’s drinking water needs assessment shows hundreds of failing water systems
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California has released a new report that provides a detailed assessment of water systems that are struggling to supply safe drinking water, reports Circle of Blue. The assessment illustrates the breadth and depth of challenges to safe and affordable water supply across system types in the state.

In 2016, the California Water Resources Control Board adopted a resolution that identified the Human Right to Water (HR2W) as a top priority. It recognises that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking and sanitary purposes”. The State Water Board followed up with the establishment of the Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience (SAFER) Program in 2019, to help struggling water systems. The Needs Assessment just released provides information and recommendations to guide this work, including components on risks, affordability and cost.

Of 7,800 public water systems in California, about 345 are in the Human Right to Water List, meaning they don’t meet safe drinking wate standards – failing water systems. It is not a static analysis and every year new water systems are added to the list. But the Needs Assessment also identifies water systems that are at risk of failing to provide safe and affordable drinking water, approximately 620 public water systems.

An additional approximately 610 small water systems – serving less than 25 people – and 80,000 domestic wells are at high risk due to their location in aquifers with a high risk of groundwater contaminants.

Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the State Water Board, told Circle of Blue: “We see that without the ratepayer base or the affluence oftentimes communities, and especially smaller systems, are unable to meet standards, unable to carry out the mission of providing clean, safe, affordable water in the twenty-first century”.

The estimated total cost of implementing interim and long-term solutions, for water systems and domestic wells that need assistance within the next five years, is $10.25 billion.

At the federal level, the recently announced Biden administration infrastructure and jobs plan includes $111 billion to improve water systems. It intends to direct a significant portion to underserved disadvantaged communities.

The Needs Assessment identifies funding gaps of $2.1 billion in grant funding and $2.6 billion in loan funding (financing) to address failing and at-risk systems and domestic wells over the next five years, something which can help California advocate for federal funds in the next months.      

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