An audit released on Tuesday demonstrates how far the state of California is from delivering on its commitment to provide every Californian with safe, clean, inexpensive, and easily accessible water.
“Lack of urgency to give vital help to failing water systems” is how Acting State Auditor Michael Tilden described regulators at the State Water Resources Control Board, even as the state invests hundreds of millions of dollars into drinking water projects.
Findings from the audit:
More than 370 water systems failed to meet water quality regulations in December 2021, putting more than 920,000 people at risk of cancer, liver disease, and renal failure. As many as 150 have failed to fulfill those standards for at least five years, and an additional 432 systems serving more than 1 million people are at risk of failing. (According to the paper, there are approximately 7,400 drinking water systems in California.)
For the most part, the water systems that are failing in low-income and disadvantaged communities are located in eight Central Valley counties, San Bernardino and Imperial Counties. This means that residents who can least afford it must purchase expensive bottled water for both drinking and cooking purposes.”
Nearly twice as long as the average of 17 months in 2017 for systems to apply for and get funds from the state water board in 2021, this funding is available for these systems to improve their water quality. ( According to Tilden, the state water board has been forced to work with “smaller, presumably less sophisticated” water systems as a result of a recent change in state law.
However, evaluations of water systems show that the board’s “cumbersome” application process is a contributing factor: Someone called it “a nightmare,” stating that no one “can decipher what is required.”)
Adding insult to injury, Tilden noted that “California is in the middle of a historic drought, which will only put the strain on many beleaguered water systems.” State Water Board financing and remedies will be urgently needed if the quality of their water deteriorates or they run out of water. More Californians will be exposed to tainted water if the situation is not resolved quickly.
Tilden suggested to the water board that it streamline its application process by eliminating redundant documentation and stages and developing a means to expedite projects that were judged particularly urgent.
Eileen Sobeck, the executive director of the water board, wrote to the auditor’s office to admit that the board could do better but to refute the charge that it was slow to help to fail water systems.
In the first three years of a 10-year initiative, the board has “reduced the population affected by malfunctioning water systems from 1.6 million people to 934,000,” she stated. Approximately 650,000 Californians in 120 towns who lacked safe drinking water three years ago now do.
The progress made by the water board, according to Hanford Democrat state senator Melissa Hurtado, isn’t good enough.
According to Hurtado, “The issue is simply growing worse,” and the State Water Board should be dissolved and replaced. There is no control of the State Water Board, which is an out-of-date regulatory organization that appears incapable of dealing with our critical water shortage. We must proclaim a state of emergency to rectify our defective water systems.”