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Drinking Water Standards: Using Data and Science

February 2, 2022

A new white paper from the Southern California Water Coalition’s Water Quality Task Force aims to help identify new and better ways for the state to use data and science in the development of state drinking water standards. This is important in light of California’s Human Right to Water Act (HRTWA) which challenges public water systems to deliver water that is clean and safe for all customers, regardless of prevailing conditions and system limitations.

The recent statewide assessments demonstrate that the way we have been managing drinking water is not working and is preventing us from reaching our goals for California’s Human Right to Water. We need to change our strategies to address the competing demands on our resources and reverse the current trends that are harming people’s health, making it harder for people to have access to clean water, and making water more expensive. 

This is especially important when setting standards for drinking water because many standards for emerging contaminants can take money away from treating water for known health threats and keeping the system running. This also often requires rate increases that make it hard for low-income households to afford, and causes self-sufficient systems to become dependent on state funding. State agencies can no longer wait until the end of the standard-setting process to consider how new drinking water standards will impact HRTWA objectives.


One way to achieve the multiple objectives of the HRTWA is by developing Public Health Goals (PHG). PHGs, or Public Health Goals, are very important when it comes to setting Maximum Contaminant Levels. The California Safe Drinking Water Act says that regulators must look at PHGs when deciding what new levels should be set for contaminants like 1,4-dioxane. California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has a chance to use the latest methods and research when assessing risks to see how accurately they reflect health risks.

We recommend that OEHHA use the best available health effects science and risk assessment methods to improve the accuracy of future PHG risk assessments. This will help decision makers make sound decisions about where to invest resources for public health protection and increased water supply resilience. It will also help minimize any negative impacts on public health and welfare that may result from significant increases in the cost of water.

Learn more by reading the white paper and our letter to California Secretary Jared Blumenfeld, California Secretary of Environmental Protection, published on January 18, 2022.


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