California: First Ever Assessment of Safe Drinking Water

Submitted by Sheryl Hamlin

The California Water Board has issued a detailed report about water quality in California. From the Press Release:

SACRAMENTO – The State Water Resources Control Board announced today the completion of its first-ever comprehensive look at California water systems that are struggling to provide safe drinking water to communities and how to help them. With criteria for the state’s Human Right to Water list recently expanded, the assessment identifies both failing water systems and those at risk of failing, offering the most in depth view of long-term drinking water safety the state has ever had.

The needs assessment follows California’s leadership in adopting the first Human Right to Water policy in the nation. The study is part of the state’s Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience (SAFER) Program, a comprehensive approach to implementing Governor Gavin Newsom’s commitment to ensuring the estimated 1 million Californians being served contaminated water have solutions for safe, affordable drinking water. The Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund earmarks $130 million annually through 2030. Additional funds to address SAFER solutions come from various State and Federal funding sources.

The needs assessment does three things: (1) identifies California small water systems and domestic wells that are failing or at risk of failing to provide access to safe drinking water; (2) estimates the cost of interim and long-term solutions for these systems; and (3) determines the statewide funding gap and affordability challenges that may be barriers to implementing these solutions. While the Water Board estimates another $4.6 billion in drinking water grants and loans will be needed to help water systems implement sustainable, long-term solutions, the Biden Administration’s recently announced $2 trillion infrastructure initiative devotes significant resources to new or upgraded water projects and could help close many financing gaps in the years ahead.

HR2W: Human Right To Water

This new acronym is used to categorize water systems analyzed from acceptable to problematic. A chart shows how many water systems fall into each category. The full list may be see in the Executive Summary.

The 2021 Risk Assessment was conducted for 2,779 public water systems and evaluated their performance across 19 risk indicators within the following four categories: Water Quality, Accessibility, Affordability, and Technical, Managerial, and Financial (TMF) Capacity. The results identified 617 (25%) At-Risk water systems, 552 (23%) Potentially At-Risk water systems, and 1,284 (52%) Not At-Risk water systems (Figure 1).

Source: Executive Summary

Final Presentation to the Public

The detailed presentation to the public clearly maps the issues and the costs as well as the legislation that created the HR2W initiative. On slide 35, Ventura County falls in the middle of the counties with problematic water systems.

Water Board Source for HR2W

The Water Board has created a site for all material related to HR2W including downloads of press releases, presentations and the 330 page final report. The url is:


With a price tag if $4 billion, how will the HR2W intersect with the DPR (Direct Potable Reuse) Initiative? Both major water initiatives are occurring in the same time space, so it is important to understand how these policies might intersect or overlap. Read about the DPR initiative here.

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Sheryl Hamlin

Trying to bring back thousands of salmon, the State Water Board is dumping water! What a story. See map.

While fields ploughed under to make way for giant solar farms, fish may thrive.

Note lawsuit. 

Sheryl Hamlin

Sent to Water Board:

Dear Water Board,

Your study is a huge accomplishment. Water Quality is particularly important because, as wastewater systems grow, there is more possibility of contaminated wastewater leaching into the groundwater. Do you plan to add extra testing for the water companies in cities with expansive wastewater plants?

The DPR Framework speaks of real-time testing such that water delivery can be curtailed in the event of a measurement out of specifications. Would not this type of real-time water quality measurement be necessary going forward to monitor water quality continuously?

And finally, in the State of California, water companies are both public and private or combinations of both. Will the water quality monitoring be applied equally across different types of ownerships?

Thank you again for this work. 


Will they finally get serious about building or expanding water reservoirs ?

Gayle Washburn

California leads the way again. The HR2W seems to diverge from the trend to commodify and privatize water. I hope that is the case.