Water suppliers in California’s disadvantaged communities were struggling to comply with a prohibitively expensive regulation that only wealthy and larger water districts could afford. We thank the State Water Resources Control Board for deciding last week not to appeal a judge’s ruling invalidating the rule.
In 2014, the Department of Public Health adopted a drinking water standard of no more than 10 parts per billion for hexavalent chromium – also known as chrome 6 – a potential carcinogen that occurs in groundwater, mostly from natural sources, throughout California. In May, a Sacramento Superior Court judge found that the department, which was responsible for the standard before it was transferred to the water board, “failed to properly consider the economic feasibility of complying” with the rule.
The decision frees nearly 200 water districts, including many small systems serving disadvantaged communities, from a “pick your poison” dilemma: spending money they don’t have on new treatment systems, or shutting down wells. Many are still recovering from a punishing drought and already bear the financial burden of multimillion-dollar projects to remove nitrate and arsenic from water supplies.
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The department’s own analysis in August 2013 said that while customers of large water systems would pay about $64 more a year, the bills for those in small water systems would jump by an estimated $5,630 per year. The standard of 10 parts per billion is equivalent to 10 drops of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool and is 10 times more stringent than the federal standard.
Following the judge’s order, the water board plans to implement a new drinking water standard for chrome 6 that properly considers economic feasibility and affordability. The process could take as long as two years.
No one disagrees that safe drinking water is a priority. But a choice between complying with water standards or going bankrupt does not protect anyone.
Lisa Yamashita-Lopez is president of the California Association of Mutual Water Companies and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ray Kolisz is general manager of the Twentynine Palms Water District and can be contacted at email@example.com.