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Strategy for State Small Water Systems, Domestic Wells and Other Self-Supplied Communities

Hundreds of thousands of Californians get their drinking water from state small water systems, domestic wells, or self-supplied sources (untreated surface water). Domestic wells supply water for domestic use by an individual household or up to four individual connections. State small water systems pipe water for at least five and up to 14 service connections and provide drinking water to fewer than 25 people on a regular basis. The SAFER Drinking Water program is launching a new strategy to help state small water systems, domestic wells, and other self-supplied communities access safe, adequate, and affordable drinking water.

The Problem

Lack of Centralized Data

State small water systems, domestic wells and other self-supplied residences are permitted by counties and not regulated by the state. Because of this, the state has lacked data about the water quality or location of these systems and wells. Senate Bill 200, which established the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund in 2019, requires counties work toward providing this data to the State Water Board. As a result, the State Water Board is beginning to develop a clearer picture about well locations and the scale of drinking water concerns for communities accessing water through these sources.

Risks of Contamination and Dry Wells

California’s 2021 Drinking Water Needs Assessment estimated that about half of state small water systems and nearly a third of domestic wells are at high risk of exceeding healthy drinking water standards, due to the likelihood of contaminants in groundwater.

Climate change and drought also contribute to unstable water supplies for these communities: for example, domestic wells and wells serving state small water systems tend to be shallower than those serving larger systems and are at greater risk of running dry. When these wells run dry or are damaged, it is difficult for communities to afford well drilling or repairs because they cannot distribute costs across a large population as with larger systems.

SAFER Drinking Water Response

The SAFER Drinking Water program’s response to these challenges has four key components: centralized state small water system and domestic well data, funding for counties to develop response programs, regional outreach and engagement, and a Point-of-Use/Point-of-Entry pilot.

The State Water Board is working with counties to collect water quality data on state small water systems and domestic wells. Once collected, the data (location, number of people served, water quality, etc.) will be available to the public online. Access to this data will enable better decision-making on local and regional levels.

  For more information, visit: State Small Water System and Domestic Well Water Quality Data.

The State Water Board will provide funding for counties that want to develop programs for domestic wells and state small water systems. Technical Assistance providers will support and train counties as they develop tailored programs based on the needs of local communities. These programs can offer solutions such as water sampling, consolidation, point-of-use and point-of-entry water treatment, well drilling, long-term hauled water, vended water, and bottled water.

  For more information, visit County-wide and Regional Funding Programs.

The State Water Board will fund partners to implement regionalization processes in two regions of the state. Regionalization is a process where several local water systems and domestic well users in a region work together to identify solutions that can deliver safe, sustainable and affordable drinking water in the long term. Regionalization can include several wells or water systems being subsumed into one large water system, the creation of a new water system, the creation of a new governance structure, or managerial consolidation.

Funding Partners will identify, fund, and coordinate local groups and organizations to serve as Community Partners.  Community Partners will provide expertise to develop community engagement strategies and will implement direct engagement with domestic well owners and state small water systems. In addition, Technical Assistance providers will offer guidance and technical expertise on elements of regionalization including assessing existing technical, managerial, and financial capacity of the region; understanding feasibility and water rate studies; and assessing long-term governance and funding options. The State Water Board plans to implement this two-region pilot in 2023. If successful, the approach may be implemented in other regions in the future.

For more information, contact or see the Outreach and Engagement Strategy (Estrategia de divulgación y participación).

Point-of-use (POU) devices treat water from a single outlet, faucet, or fixture, and point-of-entry (POE) devices treat water entering a house or building. These devices may be the only available solution for Californians with water quality issues in rural areas. The State Water Board is developing a pilot to better understand the challenges, needs, and opportunities in implementing POU/POE treatment as a sustainable approach. Currently, Water Boards staff are gathering input from stakeholders and writing a report about POU/POE approaches and challenges, and plan to begin a pilot in 2022.

Other Solutions for State Small Water Systems and Domestic Wells

The State Water Board funds various Technical Assistance providers that can directly assist with developing regionalization or consolidation efforts to connect state small water systems and domestic wells to public water systems.

  • This map can help identify opportunities for water partnerships in your area.
  •  If you are interested in pursuing such a project, please coordinate with the SAFER Engagement Unit for assistance.

Existing Programs to Help With Interim and Longer-Term Solutions

Organization Program Services Regions Served Contact Information
Self-Help Enterprises SHE Regional Bottled Water Program Bottled water for disadvantaged households Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare Counties
(559) 802-1284
Self-Help Enterprises Tanks & Hauling Program Temporary water storage tanks and hauled water Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare Counties
(559) 802-1685

Valley Water Collaborative

Kaweah Water Foundation
Expanded Constituent Well Sampling and Replacement Water Program Domestic well testing; interim drinking water Modesto Groundwater Basin (Stanislaus and Tuolumne Counties), Turlock Groundwater Basin (Stanislaus and Merced Counties), and Kaweah Groundwater Basin (North Tulare County)

Other CV-SALTS priority basins: Chowchilla, Tulare, Kings (nitrate testing only)
Modesto & Turlock Basins:
(209) 750-3867
Valley Water Collaborative

Kaweah Basin:
(559) 325-4463
Kaweah Water Foundation

CV-SALTS Nitrate Control Program
Community Water Center CWC Domestic Well Testing Domestic well testing Tulare, Fresno, Kern, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara counties Community Water Center Domestic Well Testing

Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara:
Brandon Bollinger
(831) 500-2162

Tulare, Fresno, and Kern:
Ryan Jensen
(559) 733-0219
Community Water Center CWC Regional Bottled Water Program Bottled water for disadvantaged households Santa Clara (south of Morgan Hill), San Mateo (southern portion), Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey, Kern (small portions), San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura (northern portion) counties Heather Lukacs
Community Water Center Bottled Water Programs
Rural Community Assistance Corporation Drinking Water Well Replacement Program Well abandonment, repair, replacement, and connection for disadvantaged households Statewide Deborah Almazan
(725) 221-0474
Rural Community Assistance Corporation
Rural Community Assistance Corporation Statewide Bottled Water Program for Schools Bottled water for public schools Statewide
(725) 221-0474
California Rural Water Association CRWA Household Well Assistance Project Well replacement for disadvantaged communities San Bernadino County Dan DeMoss
(916) 553-4900
Toll-free: (800) 833-0322
California Rural Water Association
Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation PUCDC POU/POE (launching in 2022) Point of Use/Point of Entry water quality treatment Eastern Coachella Valley Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation

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