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California State Auditor Report Highlights Contaminated Water Problems

The state of California’s auditor is concerned that nearly 1 million Californians are drinking contaminated water that could lead to long-term health ramifications.

In a report posted to the State Water Resources Control Board, the report called for failing water systems with contaminated water to receive assistance in a timely manner, and called for urgency to address the situation.

The letter is posted below:

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,

Acting California State Auditor

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A few highlights from the report:

  • 70 public water systems in California are contaminated and exceed the MCLs for arsenic.
  • Another contaminant that was regularly found was nitrates.
  • The average application processing time for water systems that seek funding is more than two years — about 33 months.
  • The water board has not evaluated its cumbersome application process and failed to demonstrate urgency.
  • The state water board has a funding gap. Between 2021 and 2025 there will be an estimated 4.5 billion gap between the funds needed and what is available through loans and grants.
  • The state water board has not established performance goals or metrics to measure any improvement in processing applications or helping groups apply for funding.
  • Since 2017 the number of water systems classified as failing each year has remained above 300.
Figure 3 is a map of California counties that shows the number of people in each county that are served by failing water systems.
Source: State law and State Water Board data on failing water systems.
Note: Only includes water systems with 15 or more service connections used by yearlong residents, or those that regularly serve at least 25 yearlong residents, and water systems that serve schools and day‑care facilities and have 15 or more service connections or regularly serve at least 25 people daily at least 60 days out of the year. Does not include state small water systems and domestic wells. Data as of December 31, 2021.

If you are looking for a fix for your water problems, whether you are living in one of these highlighted municipalities or not, call Culligan. We have reverse osmosis filtration systems and whole house water filters that can take care of most contaminants to ensure better long-term health for you and your family.

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