By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California’s public drinking water systems violated safety levels for contaminants more than 1,000 times during the 2012-2013 fiscal year says a report that cites high levels in some water systems of arsenic, nitrates and other pollutants.
The report, ordered by the state Senate's Environmental Quality committee, is part of a broader effort to improve compliance with drinking water regulations, prompted by criticism of the state's oversight and a court settlement.
"Although the vast majority of Californians who receive drinking water from a public water system receive water that met quality standards in recent years, there are still many who may have consumed unsafe water," Senate researchers said in the report, which was released on Wednesday.
According to the report, about 98 percent of water provided by the state's public water systems met standards for water quality in 2013. But the systems regulated by the state, which provide water to 38 million Californians, were subject to about 1,800 enforcement actions by state regulators during the fiscal year 2012-2013.
Water in California violated federal quality standards more than 1,000 times during the fiscal year, triggering reports to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the report said.
The most common violations were for high levels of such contaminants as arsenic, nitrates, naturally occurring radioactive minerals and perchlorates, which are natural and man-made chemicals used in rocket fuel and explosives, the report said.
The nitrates, which can cause serious illness, including blue-baby syndrome in infants, tend to come from fertilizer run-off, sewage leaks and erosion, the report said.
Arsenic, which causes skin damage, circulatory system problems and increased cancer risks, occurs naturally, but when present at high levels usually involves a human component, the report said.
"Water is a basic human right and we need to do everything possible to protect it," said Senate Democratic leader Kevin de Leon, who said the report will guide policy decisions as the state grapples with a drought that is entering its fourth year.
Lawmakers will use the report in deciding how to spend revenues from $7.5 billion in bonds authorized by voters to pay for projects to shore up the state's water supply, de Leon said.
The State Water Resources Control Board, which last year assumed oversight of drinking water quality from the Department of Public Health, said Wednesday it was reviewing the report and would soon submit its own safe drinking water plan.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)