Clean Water

PSR-LA’s Clean Water program identifies, assesses and addresses the numerous threats and challenges that Southeast Los Angeles communities face in having access to safe, clean and affordable drinking water. We collaborate with community-based organizations, environmental justice organizations, public health organizations and other water advocates working in Southeast Los Angeles and across the state of California.

California has some of the strictest and most progressive drinking water laws and standards in the world. This includes California’s “Human Right to Water,” which established that every Californian has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible drinking water. However, not every community in California sees this quality of water or water service. This is the case in Southeast Los Angeles.

What are the problems?

  • In Southeast Los Angeles, there are numerous threats and obstacles preventing communities from achieving their right to water. This includes water quality threats stemming from the various industries that pollute local drinking water sources via air emissions, wastewater or storm water. All of this is overwhelming local drinking water utilities from being able to remove these contaminants effectively, and makes it costly to do so.
  • Obtaining water supplies, maintaining the health of drinking water sources and treating it can be very costly — all of which are reflected in a customer’s bills. Because of this, Southeast Los Angeles has some of the highest water rates in the county and even in the state.
  • Southeast Los Angeles has a large number of small- to medium-sized water utilities within the region. Smaller water systems are more likely to be at-risk of failure to provide safe, clean, affordable and accessible drinking water for their customers. If failure occurs, it opens the potential for further privatization of water in the region, as private water companies are more likely to have the resources needed to restore the system while also having more leeway to make decisions without customer involvement, or to raise water rates.

How do these problems impact a person’s health?

  • Nationally, there are more than 100 contaminants that have to be treated or removed from drinking water. There are still a large number of potential water contaminants that are not being monitored or being removed. This means that there is potential for water customers to be exposed to toxic contaminants over their lifespan, which can cause unwanted health impacts. This is especially true when small water utilities do not have the bandwidth or resources to effectively remove contaminants effectively.
  • While water is life, water quality means health. The community of Southeast Los Angeles, which is primarily composed of low-income people and people of color, face heavy pollution burdens from various sources that affect their quality of life. Water, which is necessary for our health, is not always at the quality it is supposed to be, which puts vulnerable populations such as children, pregnant women, the elderly or those immunocompromised at risk of developing unwanted health impacts.
Map and key of pollution burdens in Southeast Los Angeles

Based on the list of contaminants of concern in Southeast Los Angeles we have been tracking, residents who may be exposed to contaminated drinking water can develop issues with their kidney, liver, heart, digestive tract or bladder functions, as well as organ damage and, in severe cases, cancer. In children, the effects of exposure can be more severe. For example, lead can affect adults and children differently. While almost all the impacts are the same in both age groups, children are more likely to develop cognitive issues such as potential IQ capacity, focus, behavioral issues and learning disabilities. For more information on water quality and health, see our Water Materials and Resources List.

What are the solutions?

  • Reduce or cease the release of toxic substances where possible, ensuring that the best available practices and technologies are in place to prevent the further release of toxic substances. Extended Producer Responsibility policies must also be put in place to hold toxic industries accountable for their contribution to contaminating local drinking water sources by paying fees or fines to fund investments in water technologies or infrastructure needed to treat and remove toxic contaminants.
  • Restructure California’s and Southeast Los Angeles’ water rights, groundwater rights and water customer rights to ensure transparency, inclusiveness and water justice between water entities and water customers, community members and indigenous groups.
Graphic showing what humans showing the percentage of protein, water, fat, and minerals humans are composed of from newborn to seniors

What We Do

PSR-LA’s primary goal is to achieve the Human Right to Water law in Southeast Los Angeles, which established that every Californian has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible drinking water for consumption. In practice, this looks like: 

  • Addressing the numerous sources of local toxic contaminants that impact the quality of Southeast Los Angeles’ drinking water, ensuring reliable, accessible and affordable drinking water for all.
  • Preventing further privatization of drinking water systems and holding water entities accountable to providing quality drinking water to all the communities they serve.
  • Supporting local leadership and increasing the capacity of local advocates to get involved in water issues in their communities through educational opportunities and resources development.
  • Developing and pushing policies at the local, state and federal level that benefit all communities’ access to clean drinking water.
To view our list of water resources and materials, which provides information and resources on and for Southeast Los Angeles, click here.

Our Partnerships

PSR-LA is part of Affordable Water for California, which addresses water affordability challenges across California highlighting that safe and affordable water is the most basic form of PPE. Affordable Water for California comprises: Community Water Center, Clean Water Action, SCOPE, California Coastkeeper Alliance, NextGen California, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pacific Institute, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Policy Link and Union of Concerned Scientists.

We are also part of the California State Water Resources Control Board’s Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience’s (SAFER) Advisory Group. California’s Human Right to Water law declares that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.” Using short- and long-term strategies, SAFER is designed to ensure Californians who lack safe, adequate and affordable drinking water receive it as quickly as possible, and that the water systems serving them establish sustainable solutions. In doing so, SAFER minimizes the disproportionate environmental burdens experienced by some communities and advances justice for people of all incomes, races and cultures.

In addition, PSR-LA also works with local organizations to address Southeast Los Angeles water, such as: East Yard Communities for Environmental JusticeCommunities for a Better EnvironmentBlack Women for WellnessLos Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE)Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) and others.

How to Get Involved

Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, attend an upcoming PSR-LA event, follow us on social media, or become a member of PSR-LA today. If you’re a health professional, you can also participate in our Health Ambassador Program.