New Report Proposes Framework for Measuring California’s Progress on Water and Sanitation Access

September 4, 2018, Oakland, Calif. – California’s Human Right to Water, passed in 2012, calls for safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water for all citizens. Yet while this statute has served as the touchstone for drinking water and sanitation efforts in the state, the human right to water and sanitation remains unrealized in many California communities. The problem is especially acute for disadvantaged rural communities and the state’s homeless population. In fact, hundreds of thousands of Californians have unsafe drinking water in their homes, and tens of thousands lack private indoor toilets.

While the problems are particularly acute for tribal communities and low-income rural areas, urban areas are not immune. Persons experiencing homelessness often must defecate outdoors and lack handwashing facilities, resulting in the worst outbreak of Hepatitis A last year in Southern California. Many of these problems occur out of sight and have been inconsistently documented.

A new report from the Pacific Institute asks what realizing the human right to water in California would mean in terms that are concrete, measurable, and socially acceptable within the context of a developed country.  The author responds to this complicated question with a robust framework for measuring progress on water and sanitation access in the state. The approach, modeled after the service ladder framework employed by The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) for measuring water and sanitation, offers a set of service ladders and performance measures as a way of measuring incremental progress. The ladders create broad classes of service levels that facilitate communication of broad patterns of variation and identify high-priority areas for policy interventions.

“Safe water and sanitation in the home is one of the most effective public health tools at our disposal. Yet too many people in California do not have water and sanitation that is safe, affordable, and accessible,” says report author Laura Feinstein. “The state has struggled to gain a coherent understanding of the problem, in part because we lack a common set of definitions and a comprehensive strategy for monitoring. This report is meant to serve as a launching-off point for a stakeholder discussion on the proper policy goals to ensure universal access to water and sanitation. If measured and updated regularly, the service ladders could transform how California prioritizes resources to support water and sanitation.”

Read more about the report and download a copy here.