June 14, 2016
Sacramento – A bill by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) to better ensure that small, public water agencies are able to provide long-term delivery of safe, clean drinking water passed the state Assembly’s Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee today. SB 1263 will next be heard in the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on June 28.
“Californians should not have to wonder if the water coming out of their faucets at home or their children’s school playground is suitable for drinking,” said Wieckowski, chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. “All Californians have a right to safe, clean drinking water and this bill will enable us to prevent unsustainable small public water districts from being established in the first place. If districts cannot show they have the wherewithal to handle common long-term challenges, they should not be approved. These are the districts that often fail to meet our water quality standards.”
There are more than 7,600 public water systems in California and most of them serve fewer than 200 connections. SB 1263 gives the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) a stronger role in ensuring such systems are not approved if they are unnecessary. The bill requires those seeking permits for new public water systems to meet several requirements, including examining the feasibility of adjacent water systems and annexing, connecting or otherwise supplying water to the service area. It also requires a cost comparison between a new system and consolidating, annexing or connecting to an existing water system. Applicants must also identify all proposed sources of water for the new system.
In its 2015 “Safe Drinking Water Plan for California,” the SWRCB concluded that many small water systems lack the ability to meet safe drinking water standards.
“SB 1263 furthers the Human Right to Water (law) passed in 2012 by preventing the proliferation of small public water systems that may not have the technical, managerial, or financial capacity to adequately and reliably provide safe, clean, and affordable drinking water to its service area,” said Debi Ores, an attorney and legislative advocate with the Community Water Center. “The bill will ensure that new communities will not be permitted to rely on unsustainable water supplies, such as hauled or bottled water.”
The Human Right to Water law says it is “the right of every human being to have safe, clean, affordable water adequate for human consumption, cooking and sanitation.”
The Community Water Center and the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water released a report last month titled “Are we Providing Our Kids With Safe Drinking Water?” The report found that 1,600 California schools between 2003 and 2014 violated drinking water standards*. It recommended the state ensure safe, robust and resilient community-wide water systems.”
In addition to Community Water Center, SB 1263 is supported by Clean Water Action, Sierra Club California, California League of Conservation Voters, Environmental Working Group, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability and Lutheran Office of Public Policy – California.
Senator Wieckowski represents the 10th District, which stretches from southern Alameda County to northeast Santa Clara County.
*To clarify, our report on unsafe water in schools found that 979 to 1,688 schools may have been impacted by unsafe drinking water between 2003 and 2014, representing up to 24% of the 6,974 schools reviewed in the study. That means these schools were correlated with a water system that served water that violated a primary safe drinking water standard. Read more here: http://www.communitywatercenter.org/hundreds_of_california_schools_impacted_by_unsafe_drinking_water
By Kimberly Beltran
June 6, 2016
(Calif.) Drinking fountains at some schools in Fresno Unified have been shut off for nearly two years due to lead and uranium contamination in the water.
El Camino Real Elementary School in Arvin, an agricultural community near Bakersfield, has given students durable water bottles and installed state-of-the-art filling stations that filter out harmful levels of arsenic found in the water supply there.
And, just last February, Healdsburg officials announced that they had begun providing bottled water to students last fall after detecting lead contamination at the elementary school’s drinking fountains.
These are but a few of the estimated 980 to 1,690 California schools possibly impacted by unsafe drinking water between 2003 and 2014, according to a new report state lawmakers are using to push for funding to help districts provide clean water.
Last week, the Assembly Budget Committee included in its 2016-17 funding plan $10 million for a grant program to provide filtered water filling stations at more than 100 of the most severely impacted schools – most of which, according to the analysis, are in the state’s Central Valley.
“We see this as something that is a vital need for the state to be addressing,” said Jenny Rempel, spokeswoman for the Community Water Center and lead coordinator of the report that was the subject of a legislative briefing in Sacramento last week. “While the additional funding we are seeking from the general fund is not enough to solve the problem, it would really help to make a dent.”
Multiple legislative attempts over the years to mandate a statewide school water testing system have failed to overcome the barrier of costs, ostensibly hundreds of millions of dollars that would be needed not only implement a new program but to upgrade or replace decades-old infrastructure likely contributing to the contamination.
The 2014 Flint, Michigan water crisis, however, has bolstered efforts both in Congress and in individual states to pass school water quality testing laws. No states require schools to test their water for lead, according to a recent story from the Associated Press about schools in Washington state.
Flint residents – including some 6,000 to 12,000 children – were exposed to dangerous levels of lead when the city in 2014 switched to a new municipal utility that used a different source – the Flint River – to supply water. Water officials failed to add an anti-corrosive material and the improperly treated water supply caused lead to leach from aging pipes into homes, schools and businesses.
Experts agree there is no safe level of lead. In children, the highly-toxic metal can cause lasting problems with growth and development that can affect behavior, hearing and learning as well as slow their growth. In adults, lead poisoning can damage the brain and nervous system, the stomach and the kidneys, according to medical experts. It can also cause high blood pressure and other health problems.
The Environmental Protection Agency sets legal limits on over 90 contaminants in drinking water. The legal limit for a contaminant reflects the level that protects human health and that water systems can achieve using the best available technology. EPA rules also set water-testing schedules and methods that public water systems must follow.
According to the Community Water Center’s Rempel, findings from the group’s new analysis should serve as a wake-up call for state officials.
The 979 to 1,688 schools identified as having possibly been impacted by unsafe drinking water represent up to 24 percent of the schools reviewed in the study, researchers point out. “That means these schools were correlated with a water system that served water that violated a primary safe drinking water standard,” authors wrote.
Half-a-million to more than one million students attended schools whose water systems did not always meet primary safe drinking water standards, according to the report. Bacterial and arsenic violations were the most common types of violations impacting schools, followed by the pesticide DBCP, disinfectant byproducts, and nitrates.
Neither the state nor local jurisdictions maintain a record of school water system providers, so the study matches 6,974 California schools with public water systems through both available public information and spatial correlation. “It then uses spatial analysis to overlay water quality violations to assess the magnitude of water quality violations on schools,” researchers said.
Legislation by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, would authorize a General Fund expenditure of $10 million – money that schools could use install filtered water bottle-filling stations, new drinking water infrastructure, point-of-use or point-of-entry treatment devices or plumbing and repairs.
The investment, supporters note, could provide funding for roughly 1,000 filtered water bottle-filling stations, enough for each of the 103 to 144 schools impacted in 2014 to install seven to nine safe water access points.
The analysts also pointed out that school water-quality problems could actually be worse than the report indicates depending upon the amount of lead and copper previously used in pipes and drinking fountains. These contaminants were not included in the study because there are no state-wide monitoring or tracking programs for these distribution system hazards in schools.
Some of the other findings in the report included:
Six to 9 percent of schools were impacted in multiple years, some for a decade or more. The number of schools impacted by recurring bacterial violations (i.e., the water systems serving them experienced bacterial violations in more than one year) was between 254 and 332; 177 to 207 schools were impacted by recurring arsenic violations.
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. Many of these students also suffer from other forms of pollution including some of the worst air quality in America and other environmental health hazards.
The 320 schools that still operate their own water systems (e.g., a single well run by the school) were more likely to have a water quality violation and to have recurring violations than schools receiving water from larger community water systems.
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.
In addition to recommending that the legislature appropriate funding for water filtration systems, authors of the study also call on the State Water Resources Control Board and the California Department of Education to work together to develop a monitoring and tracking system that includes testing for lead and copper.
They also say decision-makers should target resources to schools and small water systems to help them consolidate into larger regional systems that can more reliably provide safe water.
The Community Water Center, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Visalia, produced the school water survey in partnership with the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, which is based in Sacramento.
First-grader Shiloh Rivera holds up a reusable water bottle donated to every student at his Arvin school as part of an advocacy campaign called Agua4All. KERRY KLEIN/KVPR
The state estimates that over a million Californians lack access to safe drinking water. After 15 years with arsenic contamination, one small Kern County community took the struggle for clean water into its own hands--in a campaign that could serve as a role model for others.
It’s recess at El Camino Real Elementary School in Arvin and the courtyard is packed. Kids play tag and tetherball, and laughter echoes throughout the yard.
So does another, more subtle sound: the trickle of water at drinking fountains and water bottle filling stations. The kids know to get a drink when they need a break from the sun. That may sound totally mundane, but a year ago, 11-year-old Johana Mendoza wouldn’t touch the school water.
“It was really dirty,” she says. “I never drank it because my mom told me not to. And I also didn't really like the taste of it. It didn't taste clean, and it looked really dirty.”
More precisely, it was contaminated—with arsenic. It’s in the drinking water in this rural, agricultural town of 20,000 people.
Arsenic has been a problem here since 2001. Before these kids were even born. But now, 15 years later, a new advocacy campaign has temporarily solved the problem—at least in schools. They’ve installed state of the art water filters, given kids durable water bottles, and installed stations where students can refill those bottles. And overlooking every one of those stations is Wally the Water Droplet, a smiley little cartoon. The students are taught: only drink the water if Wally’s there.
“He looks like a dewdrop and he's blue, and he has a smile on his face,” Mendoza says. “He looks friendly.”
This is all a result of Agua4All, a collaboration between non-profit advocacy groups and concerned residents.
“Agua4all is basically a project to increase access to and consumption of safe drinking water throughout California,” says Sarah Buck, a rural development specialist with the Rural Community Assistance Corporation and the Agua4All program manager. “For the past 2 years we've been doing a pilot project to get to that end through the installation of water bottle filling stations and treatment where necessary in south Kern and the eastern Coachella Valley.”
So far, Buck and her associates have installed over 140 filling stations and 80 filters in schools and public spaces like parks. And Wally the Water Droplet? He plays a very important role.
“Once you know your water's safe, then we really want you to drink a lot of it,” says Buck. “A lot of these kids and families really just are drinking way too many sugar-sweetened beverages and aren't drinking enough water. We really want to make water cool and make it desirable.”
Agua4All is the product of over two years of planning and more than $2 million in grants and donations like water bottles. You might be wondering: why did it come to this? Lawmakers passed policies like the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Human Right to Water Bill to protect communities like Arvin. And yet, it was still up to a group of advocates to raise their own money and install their own filters. But even though these laws are huge steps forward, says Buck, they’re still vastly underfunded, and community efforts like Agua4all may bring change faster than government agencies can.
“[These agencies] say, ‘your water has to be under this amount to be safe, and we're going to fine you if you don't,’” says Buck, “‘but there's not necessarily a mechanism for us to give you the money to do it.’”
The EPA recognizes the problems here in California. Jared Blumenfeld, an EPA administrator in charge of a number of western states, says the agency is putting pressure on California to prioritize smaller communities like Arvin.
“Any of the medium sized and large cities, this isn't an issue because you can pay for the infrastructure to take the arsenic out of the water,” he says. “But if you're in a small community, drilling new wells is hard, and many communities have drilled well upon well and the source water still contains arsenic.”
He says Agua4All has been a huge success, and it could be a model for other communities lacking money for big infrastructure upgrades. But as he said at an Agua4All rally last month, even this shouldn’t have been so hard.
“We're here in 2016 celebrating a water fountain,” he said to an auditorium of Arvin residents. "You'd think we were going to the moon—because this has taken that kind of effort.”
Agua4All has made many schools and public spaces safer. Now, residents just need to wait a little longer for arsenic-free water in their homes. The city is drilling new wells, and so far, arsenic levels are well within the safe zone. If all five wells come up clean and clear, the rest of Arvin could get new drinking water as early as 2018.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 5, 2016
Jenny Rempel, 916-706-3346
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:
“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:
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.