Information Gaps Hinder Progress on Safe Drinking Water
Some recent strides have been made in compiling data on communities with drinking water violations, but more work is needed to help scope solutions, prioritize actions and track progress.
The biggest data gaps are for domestic wells or very small water systems that are not regulated by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
California also has data gaps for the thousands of water systems regulated by the SDWA that serve the vast majority of the state’s residents: community water systems with more than 15 connections and other public systems such as schools.
It also uses a point system to reflect the seriousness of the problem.
Systems exceeding less serious standards get 5 points per violation, and each monitoring and reporting violation gets 1 point.
ECHO provides a compliance summary for each system and enables the user to drill down into violation details.
Using information from ECHO, we find that more than 80 percent of California’s non-compliant drinking water systems, serving 280,000 residents, have been out of compliance for at least three years (see figure below).
The state might want to customize the ECHO point system to reflect local conditions – for instance, where state standards are stricter than federal standards.
And instead of flagging only systems that have a safety violation, the state could track systems that are behind on monitoring and reporting because this could foreshadow future violations of water quality standards.
More accessible and transparent data would help build momentum for action.