State Water Resources Control Board Takes Action to Improve School Drinking Water Quality

February 2, 2017 | CASH would like to thank Julia Stein and Andrew Homer from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP for the following article.

State Water Resources Control Board Takes Action to Improve School Drinking Water Quality

Given increased attention nationwide on drinking water quality, particularly in public schools, the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Board”) has recently announced two initiatives of particular interest to school districts, to further improve and safeguard drinking water quality.

The first comes in the form of a mandate to community water systems to provide free testing of school drinking water for lead upon request.  The second is the establishment of a new grant program to improve drinking water quality in public schools.

California Water Systems Mandated To Provide Lead Testing

On January 17, 2017, the State Board announced that it would require all community water systems in California to test school drinking water upon request by the school’s officials.  Most of California’s 9,000 K-12 schools are served by community water systems, and while those systems regularly test water quality, it is possible for lead to enter clean water at school campuses through old fixtures or corroded pipes at particular school sites.

While these events are less common in California due to newer infrastructure, the State Board has now incorporated public school facilities into regular water quality testing that community water systems conduct at taps.  This new requirement ensures that schools wanting lead testing can receive it for free.  Schools are not mandated to request testing, but if a school does make a written request to the relevant community water system, the system must collect samples, and must bear the costs associated with the sampling, analysis of the samples, and reporting of the results.

Once a school makes a written request for sampling, the community water system must sample on-site taps within three months, and must then report the results back to the school within two business days.  Typical locations to be sampled include cafeteria and food preparation areas, drinking fountains, and reusable water filling stations.

This one-time program, which is available until November 1, 2019, allows interested schools to determine the potential for any lead impacts to water quality on-site for free.  In the event that lead is found in tests, the State Board’s Division of Financial Assistance will have some funding available to assist schools in addressing any issues, with a particular focus on schools in disadvantaged communities.

For more information about the State Board’s lead testing program, and to see a template request for sampling, visit: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/certlic/drinkingwater/leadsamplinginschools.shtml.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP counsel Andrew Homer (andrew.homer@pillsburylaw.com) and Julia Stein (julia.stein@pillsburylaw.com) can be contacted for assistance with the request process or questions about the process.

Grant Funds To Improve Drinking Water Quality

The State Board is also in the process of setting up a new grant program pursuant to Senate Bill 828, which is intended to provide around $9.5 million in grant funding to improve drinking water quality in public schools.  The program will give priority to projects with high effectiveness in increasing access to safe drinking water in schools, as well as to schools serving disadvantaged communities.

The grant program will include, but is not limited to, funding for:

  • Installation of water bottle filling stations;
  • Installation or replacement of drinking water fountains with devices that are capable of removing contaminants present in the facility’s water supply;
  • Installation of point-of-entry or point-of-use treatment devices for drinking fountains, up to three years of post-installation replacement filters, and operation, maintenance, and monitoring of the devices, including training on how to operate and maintain them.

Grant application guidelines are currently in the development process, and it is anticipated that draft guidelines will be released in February.  The State Board is accepting comments on the guidelines; school district stakeholders may submit comments to Patricia Leary (Patricia.Leary@waterboards.ca.gov) or Ravi Jawanda (Ravinder.Jawanda@waterboards.ca.gov), or via mail to the State Water Resources Control Board Division of Financial Assistance, Drinking Water for Schools Grant Program, 1001 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Additional information about the grant program can be found at: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/grants_loans/schools. The State Board estimates that final grant guidelines will be adopted in April 2017, and that solicitations for grants under the program will be open from May through the end of June 2017.