By: Ilana Siyance
While clean water is a necessity, it is not always accessible, even today in America. The battle for safe drinking water rages on in 2019.
In the state of California, up to 1,000 community water systems may be failing to provide safe tap water. The California State Water Resources Control Board, which regulates the drinking water, has recently revealed that one out of every three water systems in the state is at risk of failing. Roughly one million Californians are exposed to drinking water that is unsafe every year. The ailing areas are most frequently the poor neighborhoods in the state, which is known for its broad discrepancy in the standards of living. The water systems face difficulties ranging from bankruptcy to unpredictable water capacity, to harmful toxins being added through the decrepit taps.
Across the United States, political leaders are at a loss as to how the country’s aging water infrastructure can be repaired. In a 2017 report, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s drinking water systems a D rating. The Golden State suffers from these troubles even more, owing to the many small independent water systems with lack of outside supervision. In many of the small districts the local community boards manage the water systems, often with limited expertise in the area, inadequate budgets and not enough oversight from the state.
As per a recent article in the NY Times, over 300 public water systems in California have already been tested as unsafe. It is estimated that many more are out of compliance with federal drinking water safety standards, but sufficient information has not yet been collected. Only after systems are close to collapse and are visibly failing are the state agencies notified. The state agency doesn’t retain a list of water systems suspected of being high-risk. The little information that is collected from water districts is many times dispersed among agencies and different levels of the government, which may not have the authority to do anything, even if they want to.
The Sativa Los Angeles County Water District is an unfortunate example of the failing systems. In Willowbrook, Calif., the unincorporated community near Southern Los Angeles, located only about 20 miles away from Beverly Hills, the water has been brown for a full year now. Last year residents, one out of four of which live in poverty, started complaining about the severely discolored water, unexplained stomach pains and brutally itchy skin. Officials stepped in disbanding Sativa’s elected board of directors, which were in charge of the water.
The Los Angeles County took control of the water district, and said that they discovered that the system needed more than $10 million in urgent repairs to save it from closing down completely. “We didn’t know how bad the problems were,” said Russ Bryden, an engineer with the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works, who took over management of Sativa last fall. “You could not have known from the outside. Sativa was not supposed to be this bad.” As per the Times, the system had hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills and debts, and clear signs of mismanagement. The county is currently working feverishly to replace dilapidated pipes and wells, and this week began new construction to reinforce Sativa’s system. Because the system was already on the brink of collapse, the overhaul is proving to be more timely and expensive than anticipated.