The California State Water Resources Control Board is in the midst of a plan to spend roughly $1.3 billion over 10 years to save some 300 water systems throughout the state that are at risk of failing. (Photo by Joost Nelissen/Flickr)

An ambitious spending plan to shore up hundreds of failing and “at risk” California water systems won approval this week from a key state regulatory agency.

In a unanimous vote, the State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday authorized a plan to spend up to $130 million in fiscal year 2020-21 through the newly created Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund.

The money is intended primarily to help small, community water systems in economically disadvantaged areas deliver water that is safe to drink and affordably priced.

It will also be available to help the owners of private wells treat contaminated water and to help speed the consolidation of water systems that are struggling to provide safe water to their customers.

“Ensuring all Californians have access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water is a generational challenge,” water board chairman Joaquin Esquivel said. “This first year’s adoption of the fund’s annual expenditure plan is a key milestone, with much work ahead.”

For almost a year now, the water board has worked on a plan to spend roughly $1.3 billion over 10 years in order to save some 300 water systems throughout the state that are failing or at risk of failing.

Each year during the life of the program, the board will approve a new budget that draws primarily on money from the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

The struggling districts are among the smallest of the state’s roughly 7,400 public water systems and are often beset with inadequate budgets, high levels of contaminants in their water supplies, the presence of waterborne illness among ratepayers, and are dependent on a single groundwater source or primarily serve an economically disadvantaged community, among other things.

Kiley Russell reported this story with support from the 2019 Impact Fund, a program of the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.