CEHTP Collects New Data on Water System Boundaries
In February 2012, the California Environmental Health Tracking Program (CEHTP) launched a web-based tool to assist water systems in creating digital maps of the areas they serve. Prior to this effort, many systems only had paper maps, and there was no central location where this information was available for the entire state. So far, the CEHTP water tool has compiled information for water systems that collectively serve almost 90% of the total California population.
Since the launch, data on the location of these water system service areas have been publicly available for use in research studies and other public health activities (see examples below). This is the first time that such a comprehensive map of water system boundaries for California has been developed. Compiling these data into a single digital dataset facilitates coordination among water system managers, public officials, and community groups when considering emergency preparedness, research, or future interventions to protect public health.
New Information Fuels Public Health Research
In just one year, new data on water system boundaries has enabled or facilitated efforts by state and local agencies, as well as university and non-governmental researchers, to conduct a number of new studies related to water quality, water costs, and the ongoing surveillance of California's water resources. The data have also been incorporated into existing research efforts that are used to inform community planning. Below are a few of the exciting research activities in progress, and we expect many more to come.
Researching water costs
The costs associated with providing and transporting drinking water in a clean, secure, and reliable fashion can vary by location, and it is unclear how pricing is set. The Pacific Institute and the Community Water Center used the CEHTP water system boundary dataset as a core component of their research on water costs in California.
The researchers combined water boundary data with data on income and water costs to evaluate variations in price by census tract. "Understanding how different water suppliers determine pricing will be valuable for both the providers and for the customers," said Dr. Juliet Christian-Smith of the Pacific Institute. "We know a lot about how water prices are changing, but we don't always know why. This study will inform efforts to develop strategies for agencies to stay fiscally solvent while providing fair prices." To learn more about the study, go to http://www.pacinst.org/reports/water_rates/.
Evaluating nitrate pollution in agricultural communities
Nitrate-contaminated drinking water can lead to serious illness in infants, and exposure to nitrates has been associated with certain cancers and adverse reproductive outcomes, including various birth defects. In 2008, Senate Bill SBX2 1 (Perata) required that the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) submit to the legislature a report to "improve understanding of the causes of [nitrate] groundwater contamination, identify potential remediation solutions and funding sources to recover costs expended by the State ... to clean up or treat groundwater, and ensure the provision of safe drinking water."
In response to SBX2 1, the University of California at Davis (UCD), on behalf of the SWRCB, used the CEHTP water system boundary dataset, along with other information, to identify communities most exposed to nitrate contamination in drinking water and to propose potential remediation solutions. The subsequent UCD report was used as the basis for the final SBX2 1 report provided by the SWRCB to the legislature in February 2013.
Identifying regional solutions for drinking water contamination
Two regional partnerships- composed of cross-sector collaborations between local governments, engineering firms, and local non-profit organizations- have been established to identify solutions to drinking water contamination in disadvantaged communities. These efforts are the Tulare Lake Basin Disadvantaged Community Water Study, administered by the County of Tulare, and the Kings Basin Disadvantaged Communities Pilot Study, administered by the Upper Kings Basin Integrated Regional Water Management Authority. Both studies are funded by the California Department of Water Resources.
These studies are using stakeholder participation and a variety of planning and engineering tools to characterize water problems and develop long-term strategies for obtaining access to safe drinking water and reliable clean wastewater facilities. As part of this effort to identify regional solutions, the CEHTP water system boundary dataset has been used to characterize water quality across the Tulare Lake Basin (which includes the Upper Kings Basin).
Identifying cumulative impacts at the neighborhood level
Researchers from Occidental College, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Southern California have been developing a Cumulative Impacts Screening Method. Their research method provides a visual mapping tool and includes indicators of social, health, and environmental impacts to identify communities that may bear a disproportionate burden of pollution or disease. The screening method has been used to assess and advance land use decision-making processes that promote environmental health. As part of this effort, the research team has been incorporating the CEHTP water system boundary dataset into their tool to develop neighborhood metrics of drinking water quality.
Plans for the Future
Thanks to the ongoing, collaborative efforts by water systems and others to input their data into the CEHTP water tool, a statewide map of water system boundaries is now publicly available for planning, research, and other public health efforts. This map is continually updated as water systems submit data or make edits when their system boundaries change. CEHTP is working with the State's Division of Drinking Water and Environmental Management (DDWEM) to promote use of the tool by providing access to it via the Electronic Annual Reporting System, which water systems use annually to report data to DDWEM. CEHTP is also making improvements to the tool, such as enhancing the ability to add areas to an existing map or to create a map using property boundaries, to make it easier for water systems to enter and update information.
In just one year, the data compiled and provided through the CEHTP water system boundary tool have been used in a range of research and evaluation activities. We hope that others continue to utilize this resource to inform public health policy, research, and action. Understanding how CEHTP data are utilized provides us with the feedback needed to make our tools as useful as possible for public health professionals and others within government agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and communities.
For More Information
For more information about the CEHTP Drinking Water Systems Geographic Reporting Tool, please see the newsletter article announcing its launch or visit www.cehtp.org/p/water_tool_home.
The water system boundary data are publicly accessible at www.cehtp.org/p/water_dataset. To access data related to drinking water quality, please visit: www.cehtp.org/p/drinking_water.
This tool is part of a collaborative effort led by CEHTP in partnership with DDWEM, the state agency that regulates water systems, and the UC Davis Information Center for the Environment.