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SAFER Program Background

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The Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience (SAFER) program is a comprehensive set of tools, funding sources, and regulatory authorities designed to help struggling water systems sustainably and affordably provide safe drinking water to their customers and meet the goals of safe drinking water for all Californians:

Through its Division of Drinking Water, the State Water Board is responsible for enforcing federal and state drinking water statutes and regulating over 7,400 public water systems.

Through its Division of Financial Assistance, the State Water Board awards state and federal grants and loans for drinking water projects, including funding from the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, to support safe drinking water needs.

Through its Office of Public Participation, the State Water Board provides community engagement assistance to support effective public participation in State Water Board decisions and actions.

Background Information

The primary purpose of the SAFER program is to bring true environmental justice to California and address the continuing disproportionate environmental burdens in the state by creating a fund that will assist in providing safe drinking water in every California community, for every Californian.

SAFER funds will help water systems provide a safe, accessible, and affordable supply of drinking water to communities in both the near and long terms by accelerating implementation of short- and long-term drinking water solutions, moving water systems to more efficient modes of operation, providing short-term operation and maintenance support as a bridge until long-term sustainable solutions are in place, and providing long-term operation and maintenance support when necessary.

The SAFER program supports permanent and sustainable drinking water solutions that ensure all Californians have access to safe, affordable, and reliable drinking water.

The Fund was established by Senate Bill (SB) 200 in July 2019 to address funding gaps and provide solutions to water systems, especially those serving disadvantaged communities, to address both their short- and long-term drinking water needs.  SB 200 requires the annual transfer of 5 percent of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) (up to $130 million) into the Fund until June 30, 2030.  Money transferred into the Fund is continuously appropriated and must be expended consistent with the Plan, which is adopted annually by the State Water Board.  The Plan is based on a drinking water needs assessment and will document past and planned expenditures and prioritize projects for funding.

SB 200 (Monning, 2019) established the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to address the drinking water crisis affecting more than one million people in California communities. The fund provides $130 million per year through 2030 to enable the State Water Board to help develop and implement sustainable solutions for small systems with drinking water standards violations.

Solutions may include consolidation with larger water systems, operations and maintenance costs, building local technical and managerial capacity, providing interim replacement water, and administrators to run the small systems.

The Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund Expenditure Plan, which is adopted annually by the State Water Board, directs how money from the Fund can be spent. The Fund Expenditure Plan will be based on a drinking water needs assessment, documents past and planned expenditures, prioritizes projects for funding, and includes the following elements:

  • Identifies public water systems, community water systems, state small water systems and regions where domestic wells consistently fail or are at risk of failing to provide adequate safe drinking water, the causes of failure, and appropriate remedies.
  • Determines the amounts and sources of funding needed to provide safe drinking water or eliminate the risk of failure to provide safe drinking water.
  • Identifies gaps in supplying safe and affordable drinking water and determine the amounts and potential sources of funding to eliminate those gaps.

Visit the Office of Sustainable Water Solutions for information on the Fund Expenditure Plan and Policy.

The SAFER Program is responsible for identifying public water systems and domestic wells that are “at-risk” of failure. Identifying “at-risk” systems and private domestic wells will help the State Water Board proactively target technical and financial assistance to ensure communities have access to safe and affordable drinking water.

  • Identifying At-Risk Public Water Systems focuses primarily on developing and evaluating risk factors for community water systems up to 3,300 connections and non-transient non-community water systems, due to the large number of historical violations associated with these systems.
  • Identifying At-Risk Domestic Wells and State Small Water Systems focuses on mapping aquifers that are used as a source of drinking water and at high risk of containing contaminants that exceed safe drinking water standards.
For nearly a century, California has worked to improve drinking water safety and access for all Californians. In 1921, California established the use of water for “domestic purposes” as the “highest” use of water. In the ensuing years, the state began regulating water quality, limited the cost of water, and established funding mechanisms to support access to safe drinking water. In 2012, the Human Right to Water law made California the first state in the nation to legally recognize water as a human right. In 2016, State Water Board members voted unanimously to adopt the human right to water as a core value and directed staff to consider how Water Boards activities impact and advance the human right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water to support basic human needs. In 2019, California established the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund (SB 200, Monning) to address the drinking water crisis affecting more than 300 communities and thousands of domestic well users across the state.