Community Water Center

Community-driven water solutions through organizing, education, and advocacy

California's Drinking Water Crisis: Flint In Our Backyard


More than one million Californians are exposed to unsafe drinking water each year.

Based on the (most recent publicly available) 2017 Annual Compliance Report data from the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) Division of Drinking Water. This SWRCB number does not reflect recurring violations and thus is not an indicator of ongoing lack of access to the Human Right to Water, but since these individuals were served contaminated water during the reporting period, CWC uses this number to express the scope of the problem across the state. 

More information on this statistic can be found in a Politifact article titled, "TRUE: ‘More than a million Californians’ don’t have clean drinking water … It could be higher" published on February 14, 2019.

Approximately 300 communities have been unable to meet safe drinking water standards for more than a year, and in some cases more than a decade.

The SWRCB maintains a Human Right to Water Portal, which includes a map and spreadsheet showing public water systems that are out of compliance with safe drinking water standards. As mentioned on the Board's website, this data doesn't include Chrome-6 and bacterial violations, nor does it include the more than 1.5 million Californians served by private domestic wells and very small water systems that are not regulated by the state. Further, it does not include Californians impacted by the recently regulated pesticide byproduct 1,2,3-TCP, which is found in many California public water systems, including large ones like Fresno and Bakersfield. Lastly, it does not include Californians on water systems which have failed to report their water quality data or Californians impacted by unsafe but unregulated contaminants. (Link)

Some families pay up to 10% of their monthly budget for clean water.

CWC collected individual household data during the development of the following study by Eli Moore, Eyal Matalon, et al.: "The Human Costs of Nitrate-contaminated Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley." March 2011. (Link)

As many as 1 in 4 schools in the Central Valley have been impacted by unsafe drinking water.

"Are We Providing Our School Kids Safe Drinking Water? An Analysis of California Schools Impacted by Unsafe Drinking Water," CWC & Environmental Justice Coalition for Water. 2016. (Link)

Latinx and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted.

See peer-reviewed publications by Carolina Balazs: “Environmental justice implications of arsenic contamination in California’s San Joaquin Valley: a cross-sectional, cluster-design examining exposure and compliance in community drinking water systems,” 2012. (Link) and "Social disparities in Nitrate-contaminated drinking water in California's San Joaquin Valley." 2011. (Link)

In some California cities, 1 in 5 households are paying almost 5% of their annual income on water, with some cities even higher.

Public Water Cost Per Household: Assessing Financial Impacts of EPA Affordability Criteria in California Cities. 2014. The United States Conference of Mayors. (Link)

Consuming water contaminated with these chemicals can cause direct and serious harm to human health, including rashes, miscarriages, and cancer.

Community Water Center. Guide to Community Drinking Water Advocacy. 2009. (Link)

Studies show that up to 80% of the population in some regions of the state may be impacted by Nitrate contamination by 2050.

Harter, T., J. R. Lund, 2012. Addressing Nitrate in California's Drinking Water with a Focus on Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley Groundwater. Report for the State Water Resources Control Board Report to the Legislature. Center for Watershed Sciences, University of California, Davis. 78 p. (Link)

Two-thirds of Californians are willing to pay to fix drinking water contamination throughout the state with a fee on their water bill. 

Polling conducted by FM3: Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. 2017. (Link)

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