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Drinking Water at Hundreds of California Schools Likely Unsafe, New Report Finds

Kerry Klein/KVPR
A sixth-grader at El Camino Real Elementary School in Arvin uses a water bottle filling station equipped with an industrial water filter, installed because Arvin’s public water is contaminated with arsenic.";

A report released today highlights how widespread unsafe drinking water is in California—particularly in schools. 

Between 2003 and 2014, over 900 schools in the state may have provided water that was contaminated with arsenic or bacteria. That’s according to the Community Water Center, a non-profit advocacy group based in Sacramento. The report combined publicly available data on water quality violations with the number of schools served by those systems.

In the Central Valley, unsafe water appears to impact at least one in five schools. In the Tulare Lake region, it could be higher than one in three. For now, these numbers are estimates because the state doesn’t comprehensively monitor water quality in schools. The center’s Jenny Rempel says that’s concerning.

"State agencies don’t currently have access to sufficient information to assess the magnitude of the problem because they’re not monitoring and tracking it," she says. "Thus, state agencies are unable to ensure that children have safe drinking water at school."

The group is currently lobbying for more funding for safe drinking water in Governor Brown’s next state budget.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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