Community Water Center

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

Hundreds of California Schools Impacted by Unsafe Drinking Water

May 5, 2016

Jenny Rempel, 916-706-3346 

Hundreds of California Schools Impacted by Unsafe Drinking Water

Over 1 in 10 public schools may have been served by water systems with drinking water violations

Sacramento, CA – Students at as many as 1,600 California public schools may have been impacted by water that did not meet primary drinking water standards between 2003-2014, according to a report released today by the Community Water Center and the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water. The report also found that many of the water supplies serving these schools have repeatedly violated drinking water standards over multiple years, some for a decade or more.

“The alarming results of this report show that hundreds of schools throughout California may have been impacted by unsafe drinking water,” said Susana De Anda, Co-Executive Director of the Community Water Center. “No parent or child should have to worry about whether the water at school is safe to drink.”

The report found that as many as 24 percent (1,688 schools) were impacted by unsafe drinking water between 2003 and 2014. These schools were likely served by water systems that violated at least one primary safe drinking water standard.

Neither the state of California nor local jurisdictions maintain records of school water system providers, so the report matched 6,974 California schools with the public water systems providing their water supplies, and then used publicly available data to determine which schools were issued violations of primary safe drinking water standards between 2003-2014.

This first-of-its-kind report provides Californians with insights into a statewide problem that has largely gone unmonitored and put students at risk for too long.

“The problem could be even worse if the pipes and drinking fountains in schools leached lead or copper into the water supplies,” said Jenny Rempel, the lead contributor to the report and Communications Coordinator at the Community Water Center. “These contaminants were not included in the study because there are no statewide monitoring or tracking systems for these contaminants in the schools’ drinking water.”

Key findings of the report:

  • As many as 1,048,222 students attended schools impacted by water systems that did not meet primary safe drinking water standards during the report’s timeframe of 2003-2014.
  • Bacterial and arsenic violations were the most common types of violations impacting schools, followed by the pesticide DBCP, disinfectant byproducts, and nitrates.
  • Multiple-year violations were found in up to 9 percent of schools, with some schools impacted for a decade or more.
  • While the problem exists statewide, the Central Valley had both the greatest number and highest percentage of schools in the region impacted by unsafe drinking water.
  • One in four schools in the Central Valley and one in three schools in the Tulare Lake region were impacted by unsafe drinking water.
  • Schools impacted by unsafe drinking water had higher percentages of Hispanic and Latino students and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.
  • State agencies do not currently have access to sufficient information to assess the magnitude of the problem and ensure that children have safe drinking water at school.

“Community Water Center’s report highlights the unfortunate reality that safe drinking water remains elusive at too many schools,” said California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. “We as policymakers have a duty to provide an environment for all students to learn and thrive.”

The report makes five recommendations to the state of California:

  • Address immediate needs: Provide funding for safe water access points at schools where the water provider is unable to reliably provide safe drinking water or resolve problems in a swift manner.
  • Monitor and track the problem:
    • Ensure adequate tracking, transparency and public reporting from state agencies about water quality at schools.
    • Develop a statewide monitoring and reporting system specifically for lead and copper in schools.
    • Require schools to report whether they provide functioning and appealing safe water access points (e.g., fountains or filling stations) to the public and the state.
  • Promote sustainable, community-wide solutions: The best solution for schools is ensuring safe, robust and resilient community-wide water systems.

In partnership with many non-profit advocacy groups, the Community Water Center is promoting a $56 million, one-time package of budget and policy proposals designed to address the lack of safe drinking water access in schools and secure the human right to water for all Californians.



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