GRI Current Events Blog

Contaminated Tap Water Affecting Hundreds of Thousands of Californians

GRI Research Assistant

Mar. 8, 2017

According to recently released data from California’s Water Resource Board, approximately 700,000 California residents are being exposed to contaminated tap water. The data shows that 292 water systems in California have levels of arsenic, uranium, nitrates, and lead contamination that violate safe drinking standards. These numbers fail to capture the full extent of the problem, however, as the data does not represent people that rely on private wells and doesn’t measure Chromium-6 contamination. Among the systems affected are ones serving schools, such as La Mirada Elementary School in San Diego, where tests revealed elevated levels of lead, copper, and bacteria. The discovery of lead at La Mirada prompted water testing in at least 12 different San Diego schools, three of which also found elevated lead levels.

Dripping Faucet (Wikimedia commons/Ángelo González)

California residents are no strangers to water contamination. A 2016 study found nearly 3,000 ZIP codes across the country in which children had higher lead levels than children in Flint, Michigan, with eight of those ZIP codes located in California. Much of California’s water contamination is in the rural communities of the Central Valley. West Fresno, where life expectancy is 20 years less than Northeast Fresno, has been described as one of the riskiest places to live in California due to combination of “diesel exhaust, tainted water, pesticides and poverty.” California’s water problems have been attributed to inadequate funding and management. While the state offers grants to build treatment centers and other infrastructure, smaller communities don’t always have the resources for operations and maintenance.


A map of contaminated water systems in California can be found here


Sources and Further Reading:

  1. Thousands of Californians Have Contaminated Water Coming From Taps – NBC San Diego
  2. ‘A Tragedy’: Hundreds of Thousands of California Residents Exposed to Contaminated Water – NBC Bay Area
  3. Elevated Lead Levels Found in School Water – San Diego Union Tribune
  4. San Ysidro schools’ lead threat a wake-up call for all – San Diego Union Tribune
  5. The Thousands of U.S. Locales Where Lead Poisoning is Worse Than in Flint – Reuters
  6. From Our Archives: West Fresno – The Riskiest Place to Live in California – The Fresno Bee
  7. Fresno Ranks No. 1 on California Pollution List – LA Times
  8. Worrying and Still Waiting for Safe Drinking Water after Cancer Claimed her Daughter – The Fresno Bee


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