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School and county boards encouraged to submit requests for free water supply lead sampling; mandatory testing could be implemented as soon as 2018 

The State Water Resources Control Board and the California Department of Education are partnering on a new program that provides schools with free testing of their on-campus drinking water. The initiative comes as lead-contaminated water receives increasing attention as a serious public health concern and as the Legislature considers bills that would make lead testing mandatory for all California schools. Additionally, $9.5 million in grant funding is currently available for lead mediation projects in schools serving disadvantaged communities that lack access to clean drinking water.

According to numbers reported by the SWRCB, as of July 21, just over 11 percent (1,201) of California schools have sent in letters of request for free testing, with 9 percent of California schools (981) having submitted testing results to the board.

Additional details about the program are provided below, and are also available online:
Lead Water Sampling | Drinking Water For Schools Grant Program

Legislation on testing for lead

Testing for lead in drinking water on K-12 school campuses has been much discussed at the Capitol throughout the year, and it is increasingly likely that a bill will be passed in the 2017-18 legislative session to make lead testing mandatory for all California school sites. If legislation is signed by the Governor this fall, testing could be required for all schools as early as January 2018.

Three bills were introduced in the Legislature earlier this year that, while containing varying provisions, would make lead sampling mandatory across the state. Two of the bills, Senate Bill 210 (Leyva, D-Chino) and Assembly Bill 885 (Rubio, D-Baldwin Park) failed to advance out of policy or fiscal committees prior to their respective deadlines and are now two-year bills, meaning that they can be taken up again in 2018 but are unlikely to advance in 2017.

The remaining active bill, AB 746 (Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego), would require local educational agencies to test all schools within their purview at least once a year or once every three years, depending on the age of the facilities. CSBA has a “Support if Amended” position on this bill and is working with the author on key amendments regarding the testing “trigger.” As currently written, if a lead level of 5 parts per billion is found in a sample taken at a school site, then every potable water system at the school site must be tested. CSBA is seeking amendments to set this trigger to 15 parts per billion, which is a safety standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Additional amendments requested by CSBA would make the testing mandate applicable only to schools in those parts of the state that have corrosive water supplies.

Assembly Bill 746 currently resides in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s suspense file. The committee will conduct its suspense hearing in late August. If passed, the bill would head for a vote on the Senate Floor in September.

Details of the Lead Sampling and Grant Programs

The 2016-17 enacted state budget allocated $9.5 million in grant funds for schools which have immediate need for lead remediation projects and a demonstrated lack of access to safe drinking water.

Only projects at school that are located within or serve residents of a disadvantaged community are eligible to receive this grant funding; “disadvantaged community” is defined as community with an annual median household income that is less than 80 percent of the statewide annual median household income.

Grant awards range between $25,000 and $100,000 for an individual school and $25,000 and $1,000,000 for eligible LEAs.

Eligible projects include but are not limited to:

  • Installation or replacement of water bottle filling stations or drinking water fountains with or without treatment devices capable of removing contaminants present in the school’s water supply;
  • Installation of point-of-entry, or point-of-use treatment devices for water bottle filling stations, drinking fountains, and other fixtures that provide water for human consumption, including up to three years of: replacement filters, operation and maintenance and monitoring of POE or POU devices;
  • Installation, replacement or repairs of drinking water fixtures and associated plumbing appurtenances that are necessary to address lead contamination identified by a school’s public water system pursuant to the Lead Sampling of Drinking Water in California Schools program and that requires a corrective action; and
  • Provision of interim alternative water supplies for applicants in the process of implementing a permanent solution, including purchases of temporary transfer water, hauled water and bottled water.

Ineligible project types include but are not limited to:

  • Major repairs or replacement of internal building plumbing systems;
  • Replacement, repairs or rehabilitation of wells;
  • Establishing connection(s) to an adjacent public water system;
  • Projects that are solely demonstration or pilot studies; and
  • Projects that are solely education and outreach.