Almost a million Californian’s have unsafe drinking water and most live in Central Valley – State Auditor faults the State Water Board

Of the 920,000 Californians served by failing water systems, the majority are in the Central Valley. Nearly 240 water systems have been failing for three years or more, and more than 150 have been failing for five years.

This a statement made July 26 from the State Auditor followed by an immediate response from State Senator Melissa Hurtado:

Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

Our audit of the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) focused on the board’s efforts to help provide Californians with safe drinking water. Nearly a million Californians face possible long-term, negative health outcomes—including an increased risk of liver and kidney problems, as well as cancer—because they receive unsafe drinking water from a failing water system. The State Water Board reported that more than 370 such systems, providing water to more than 920,000 people, were not meeting water quality standards as of December 2021. More than two‑thirds of these systems are located in disadvantaged communities with significant financial need.

The State Water Board 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 providing this critical assistance. In fact, the time necessary for water systems to complete applications for funding and for the State Water Board to approve and award that funding nearly doubled from 17 months in 2017 to 33 months in 2021.

The State Water Board’s lack of goals and metrics for its application process has likely contributed to this lengthening time frame and has inhibited the board’s ability to identify aspects of its review process that it could improve. The longer the board takes to fund projects, the more expensive those projects become. More importantly, delays increase the likelihood of negative health outcomes for Californians served by the failing water systems.

Because failing water systems often lack the expertise to plan and implement water improvement projects, the State Water Board provides them access to contracted technical assistance providers. However, it has yet to implement metrics to gauge the overall performance of these providers and to ensure that the water systems receive timely assistance. Further, the board needs to develop a plan to ensure that its staff and its contracted providers do not duplicate their outreach efforts, thus wasting limited resources.

Respectfully submitted,

MICHAEL S. TILDEN, CPA, Acting California State Auditor

Hurtado releases statement regarding the state auditor’s report on the health risks caused by California’s failing water systems

“It’s outrageous that a state as rich as California continues delivering unsafe drinking water to nearly one-million residents – with Central Valley residents most at risk. The potential consequences are catastrophic, causing long-term health problems for some of our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Senator Melissa Hurtado

“The new State Auditor’s report confirms that the California Water Resources Control Board continues to fail our families, and it reaffirms why I’ve been fighting to revamp the entire system.  Earlier this year, I called for the State Water Board to be abolished and revamped, but it is clear that the situation is only getting worse. The State Water Board is an antiquated governing body with no oversight, and it appears incapable of addressing our urgent water situation. We should declare an emergency situation and provide all the funding and resources necessary to urgently address our faulty water systems”.

The Auditor’s report stated that nearly one million Californians face possible long-term, negative health outcomes—including an increased risk of liver and kidney problems, as well as cancer—because they receive unsafe drinking water from a failing water system. The average amount of time it takes for a water system to receive assistance from the State Water Board has nearly doubled within the past five years.

Clean and safe drinking water isn’t a luxury, it’s a fundamental human right, and the people of the Central Valley deserve the same rights and dignity as the rest of California.

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