Senator Wiener’s Legislation to Ensure Public Schools and State Agencies Have Safe Drinking Water Passes the Senate Governmental Organization Committee

April 5, 2022

SACRAMENTO - Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 1144, the Safe and Efficient Water Act, passed the Senate Governmental Organization Committee by a vote of 10-1. It will now head to the Senate Education Committee. SB 1144 requires public schools and state agencies to complete a water quality and efficiency assessment on their facilities. This bill ensures our public schools and state agencies have safe, drinkable water. Far too many school children and other California residents currently lack access to clean water.

Under SB 1144, the water systems at public schools and state agencies must undergo testing for lead, radon, Legionella, and other contaminants. It will also require schools and agencies to test their water systems for water use efficiency. If any plumbing fixture is found to contain levels of contaminants beyond the legal limits, or is found to use more water than the current standards for water efficiency, the operating agency must replace the fixture at the earliest practical time, subject to funding.

California communities across the state, and particularly communities of color, are at high risk of exposure to contaminated water, due partly to extensive agricultural activity and heavy use of groundwater for drinking. Currently, roughly 85% of Californians receive drinking water at least partially from groundwater sources. Agricultural runoff can lead to chemicals entering these water sources at levels unsafe for human consumption. 

School drinking water is frequently contaminated at unacceptable levels. 53% of reporting school districts in California found lead in at least one of their drinking water fountains on a campus. As with many other environmental pollutants, children are particularly at risk of experiencing the adverse health effects of water contamination. Exposure to contaminated water can result in an array of health issues that vary depending on the contaminant, as well as the intensity and duration of the exposure. Common health complications can include Legionnaires’ disease, liver and kidney problems, developmental and behavioral issues, and in some cases, cancer. 

In addition to water quality and efficiency assessment, SB 1144 will require schools and state agencies to determine the feasibility of operating a graywater system on site (or an alternative to a graywater site that connects to existing water recycling systems). Graywater systems are critically important for the environment, particularly when it comes to addressing California’s drought and water shortage crisis. These systems recycle wastewater for irrigation, or send water to be treated and then recycled for other uses. Schools or agencies that find a graywater system is feasible onsite must then install it at the earliest practical time, subject to funding.

Finally, under SB 1144, agencies or schools with any covered buildings that use a cooling tower system must create a Legionella management program. This program will include routine bacteriological culture sampling and Legionella culture sampling, as well as remediation and disinfection plans. Legionella is bacteria that can grow in water, HVAC or cooling tower systems and can cause a serious type of pneumonia, known as Legionnaire’s disease. 

For environmental and health reasons, California must do better when it comes to water safety and efficiency. We cannot allow people across the state – including children and low income communities – to continue to be exposed to harmful contaminants. California’s water shortage is another serious problem that threatens the future of our state. Increasing water efficiency and employing graywater systems for water reuse are two important strategies for saving California’s water supply and protecting our environment.

SB 1144 is sponsored by the California Pipe Trades Council.

“Access to safe, clean drinking water is a basic human right,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “SB 1144 helps ensure that children in California's public schools and anyone working at California’s state agencies will have cleaner and safer water to drink. And it also promotes water efficiency, which is more important than ever as we face a serious drought. California can provide clean and water for everyone in an efficient way – SB 1144 will ensure we are doing just that.”