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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Ensuring Safe Drinking Water In Los Angeles County’s Small Water Systems


California has set laudable goals for ensuring that all residents have access to clean, affordable drinking water. Though the state has taken steps toward achieving these goals, they remain largely aspirational for many communities, particularly those that depend on small water systems in Los Angeles County and throughout California.

This paper addresses challenges faced by small water systems in L.A. County in providing safe and affordable drinking water to customers. These include limited financial and personnel resources as well as reduced access to alternative water sources. Small water systems are particularly vulnerable to groundwater contamination and often struggle with regulatory compliance. As a result, they have a higher percentage of water quality problems and higher rates of noncompliance than larger systems.

Small water systems’ lack of economies of scale often means that consumers pay more for water from small systems than from larger systems. Despite state efforts to provide funding and management assistance for small systems, small water systems often struggle with acquiring grants and loans, especially for operations and maintenance.

This paper provides recommendations for helping small water systems become more resilient. California should pursue: (1) improved data collection and dissemination essential to tracking small water systems; (2) greater use of the Water Board’s current authority to pursue water system consolidations, along with an increase in the scope of that authority and more funding to support consolidation; and (3) greater funding for small water system operations and maintenance, infrastructural improvements, and disaster planning.

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