California, more than any other state in the country, is not fully utilizing the Federally funded Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Only 63 percent of the $1.5 billion allotted to California over the last 15 years has been used. The national average is 81 percent.
Contributing to the lower funding level is California officials’ propensity for focusing on large-scale projects first and placing smaller projects on the backburner. Some $455 million is currently committed to projects that are years away from being shovel-ready. Because the funds are already committed, other agencies cannot apply for them. The large-scale approach largely prevents smaller agencies from addressing deficiencies in drinking water standards.
Compounding the problem is the $260 million in payments made to previous loans from the Fund that have not yet been earmarked for re-investment.
Through the Central Valley, half of the 2.6 million people drink water that have elevated nitrates – which has been tied to blue baby syndrome and other severe ailments. Nearly ten percent of people in the Central Valley take their drinking water from untreated wells.
The Environmental Protection Agency has sent the State of California a letter informing them of their deficiencies in allocating and spending the funds, and providing oversight for repayment and reinvestment. The state has 60 days to respond and satisfy the requirements of the EPA, or future allocations to the State may be cut off.