Water Quality Violations, by Violation Type

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Learn More About Water Quality

Measures of Water Quality on Kidsdata.org
Kidsdata.org reports the number of water quality violations by type: Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) violations and monitoring and recording violations as indicators of water system quality. These data do not indicate the severity of the violations.
Note: The information presented in this topic is not exhaustive of all relevant data and has limitations (click here for more information from the California Environmental Health Tracking Program). Kidsdata.org offers these and other data to draw attention to the influences of the natural environment on children's health and to encourage exploration of the issues. These indicators are subject to revision as new data emerge.
Water Quality
Air Quality
Asthma
Lead Poisoning
Why This Topic Is Important
Clean, safe drinking water is essential to child health and learning (1, 2). Access to high-quality drinking water at home, schools, and child care facilities can encourage children to drink more water and can limit their exposure to harmful contaminants (1, 2, 3). Exposure to contaminants in drinking water can result in numerous adverse health effects for children, such as gastrointestinal issues, liver or kidney damage, impaired cognitive functioning, neurological damage, and cancer (1, 3). Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of environmental contaminants (1). A 2015 report estimates that childhood conditions related to environmental hazards cost California $254 million annually (4).

While the majority of Californians are provided drinking water that meets regulatory quality standards, many still do not have reliable access to safe, affordable water (5). In particular, communities of color, low-income communities, and rural areas may have less access to safe drinking water when compared to other communities (5, 6, 7).
For more information on water quality, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Community water and health. Retrieved from: https://ephtracking.cdc.gov/showWaterDrinkingHealth

2.  Grummon, A., et al. (2014). Water works: A guide to improving water access and consumption in schools to improve health and support learning. Retrieved from: http://waterinschools.org/pdfs/WaterWorksGuide2014.pdf

3.  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2013). Drinking water best management practices for schools and child care facilities served by municipal water systems. Retrieved from: http://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPURL.cgi?Dockey=P100HGM8.TXT

4.  California Environmental Health Tracking Program. (2015). Costs of environmental health conditions in California children. Public Health Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.phi.org/resources/?resource=cehtpkidshealthcosts

5.  State Water Resources Control Board. (2015). Safe drinking water plan for California: Report to the Legislature. California Water Boards. Retrieved from: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/safedrinkingwaterplan

6.  French, C., et al. (2014). Improve water quality in rural immigrant communities. UC Davis Center for Poverty Research. Retrieved from: http://poverty.ucdavis.edu/policy-brief/improve-water-quality-rural-immigrant-communities

7.  International Human Rights Law Clinic. (2013). The Human Right to Water Bill in California: An implementation framework for state agencies. UC Berkeley School of Law. Retrieved from: https://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/Water_Report_2013_Interactive_FINAL%281%29.pdf
How Children Are Faring
In 2015, California counties were issued 1,533 Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) violations, meaning contamination in drinking water supplies exceeded public health limits. This is an increase from 2005, when 921 MCL violations were recorded. Risk of exposure to harmful chemicals through drinking water varies widely across California counties. Among the 55 counties with data in 2015, only three had no MCL violations, ten had three violations or fewer, and five counties had more than 100 such violations each.

Drinking water monitoring and recording violations occur when public water systems fail to meet water testing requirements or to report test results correctly. Statewide, there were 1,711 such violations in 2015. All but two counties with data on this measure had at least one monitoring or recording violation in 2015, while 4 counties had more than 100 violations each.
Note: Children’s environmental health is an emerging area of research, and the data currently available give a limited picture of how children in California are faring. In many cases, county-level data are not specific enough to inform conclusions about children’s health risks, but they can spark further inquiry.
Policy Implications
Access to safe drinking water is critical to child health and well being, as contaminants in water can cause serious health problems, especially among children (1). Contamination of drinking water often occurs as a result of human activities—such as industrial, agricultural, and other practices—that produce waste and byproducts associated with pesticides, fertilizers, disinfectants, and livestock, among other causes (2, 3). In addition, aging plumbing systems and corroded pipes or plumbing fixtures can contaminate drinking water (4).

In 2012, California passed the Human Right to Water Act (AB 685), which aims to provide “safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water” for all residents (2). While significant progress has been made, many Californians still do not have safe, affordable water, particularly those in low-income or rural communities and those with water sources outside the public water system (2, 3, 5).

Policy and program options to improve children’s access to safe drinking water include:
  • Ensuring that schools and child care facilities implement routine measures per Environmental Protection Agency guidelines—such as cleaning drinking fountains and debris from faucet screens—to limit contamination; also, regularly testing drinking water from all outlets in these settings to determine whether additional action is needed (4, 6)
  • Supporting efforts to implement and strengthen existing laws that require school districts to provide access to free, safe drinking water for students (6, 7)
  • Promoting clear public communication about water quality, conservation, and cost issues, and encouraging meaningful opportunities for community participation in decision-making (2, 3, 5); also, educating residents and community-based groups in areas without safe drinking water on what they can do to keep their families safe in the short term (8)
  • Facilitating access to public funds for water infrastructure improvements in disadvantaged communities, e.g., constructing, operating, and maintaining water treatment facilities, or connecting small systems to larger, nearby systems with more reliable sources (2, 3)
  • Continuing to develop sustainable solutions and funding sources to help prevent groundwater contamination, treat contaminated water, and ensure that safe, affordable drinking water is provided for small public water systems in disadvantaged communities (2, 3, 9)
  • Continuing to identify effective ways to make drinking water affordable for all low-income households, such as a water service tax credit, as cost should not be a barrier to access (2)
  • Increasing collaboration among state and local agencies to meet current water laws and regulations, and to address water quality needs among those served outside the public water system (2, 3)
For more policy ideas on water quality and access, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section or visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, State Water Resources Control Board, Community Water Center, or Pacific Institute.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Community water and health. Retrieved from: https://ephtracking.cdc.gov/showWaterDrinkingHealth

2.  State Water Resources Control Board. (2015). Safe drinking water plan for California: Report to the Legislature. California Water Boards. Retrieved from: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/safedrinkingwaterplan

3.  International Human Rights Law Clinic. (2013). The Human Right to Water Bill in California: An implementation framework for state agencies. UC Berkeley School of Law. Retrieved from: https://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/Water_Report_2013_Interactive_FINAL%281%29.pdf

4.  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2013). Drinking water best management practices for schools and child care facilities served by municipal water systems. Retrieved from: http://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPURL.cgi?Dockey=P100HGM8.TXT

5.  French, C., et al. (2014). Improve water quality in rural immigrant communities. UC Davis Center for Poverty Research. Retrieved from: http://poverty.ucdavis.edu/policy-brief/improve-water-quality-rural-immigrant-communities

6.  California School Boards Association. (2015). Drinking water access in schools. Retrieved from: https://www.csba.org/~/media/CSBA/Files/GovernanceResources/GovernanceBriefs/201504_DrinkingWaterAccessInSchools.ashx

7.  Gutierrez, H., et al. (2016). Water in California: The confluence of poverty, health disparities, and inequity. California Food Policy Advocates. Retrieved from: http://cfpa.net/archives/4872

8.  Community Water Center. (n.d.). What can I do if my water is unsafe to drink? Retrieved from: http://www.communitywatercenter.org/guides_and_factsheets

9.  State Water Resources Control Board. (2013). Communities that rely on a contaminated groundwater source for drinking water: Report to the Legislature. California Water Boards. Retrieved from: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/gama/ab2222
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Water Quality