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California Announces a Significant Milestone—Consolidation of More Than 100 Water Systems

California Announces a Significant Milestone—Consolidation of More Than 100 Water Systems

By Micheline Nadeau Fairbank, Esq. and Derek Hoffman, Esq.

Consolidation of water systems can expand availability of safe and reliable drinking water to Californians, and with the consolidation of more than 100 water systems, secures stable drinking water supplies for more than 90,000 Californians. This milestone, announced on December 7, 2023, is being celebrated by the California State Water Resources Control Board along with the United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 9, elected officials and many others statewide.


In 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom prioritized safe and clean drinking water projects including his proposal during his first week in office to establish a permanent funding source to assure access across California to safe and reliable drinking water supplies. Later that year, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 200, establishing the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund (SADW Fund or Fund), administered through the Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience Program (SAFER) that aims to support local water systems in their efforts to provide safe drinking water.

Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund

With the adoption of the SADW Fund, California committed $130 million per year to address funding gaps and assist small water systems with drinking water standard violations in developing and implementing solutions to resolve the basis for those violations. Fund monies are prioritized for use to improve operations a maintenance, costs of consolidating small systems with larger systems, providing for replacement water and for the administrative costs to operate small water systems, particularly in disadvantaged communities. The Fund provides tools and funding sources for the purpose of ensuring one million Californians who lack access to safe and reliable drinking water supplies gain access as expeditiously as possible.

Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience Program

The SAFER Program is responsible for bringing environmental justice to California by addressing the disproportionate environmental burdens in the State through the provision for a supply of safe drinking water in every California community and for every Californian. The SAFER Program is operated in coordination with California’s Human Right to Water law declaring that:

. . .every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.

Short and Long-term objectives of the SAFER Program include the acceleration of capital projects, promoting consolidation and extensions of water services, identifying community and public water systems at risk of failing drinking water standards, assist avoiding those risks, identifying gaps in safe and affordable drinking water supplies and mechanism to close those gaps, and assure a supply of safe and affordable drinking water for every Californian.

Water System Consolidations

Celebrating the benefits of the SADW Fund and the SAFER Program, the State Water Resources Control Board highlighted the consolidation of the Coachella Valley Water District and Westside Elementary School. Approximately 350 students, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, attend Westside Elementary School, which prior to the consolidation the school relied on contaminated well water. As described by the State Water Board, the investment of monies through the SADW Fund and through the SAFER Program for system consolidation, like for the Westside Elementary School, is a demonstration that these investments can produce solutions to contemporary drinking water problems and assure access to safe and affordable drinking water to disadvantaged communities throughout California.

Through the water system consolidations celebrated in the December 7, 2023 announcement and systems currently going through the consolidation process, California is equipped to tackle longstanding infrastructure disparities in rural communities, which brings security to those residents knowing that there is a reliable and safe drinking water supply. The number of water system consolidations would not have been possible without the SADW Fund and the SAFER Program.

Conclusion and Implications

Consolidation of more than 100 water systems is an achievement in not only ensuring that tens of thousands of Californians have reliable access to safe drinking water, but the focus on prioritizing funding for the State’s disadvantaged communities is a genuine achievement in addressing social justice disparities. The monies committed by California through the SADW Fund expands access to safe drinking water supplies and are intended to align with California’s legal recognition that access to reliable safe and affordable water supplies are an essential human right.