El Camino Real school assembly photo


Safe water access in schools and communities

In many rural California communities, inadequate infrastructure and contaminated water are commonplace. Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right and a foundation for healthy communities and schools, but this is not a reality for more than one million Californians. Contaminants such as arsenic can cause cancer, thyroid problems and other serious health issues.

But even in communities where the water meets federal and state requirements, adults and children alike often do not use the drinking fountains in schools, parks and other public places because they are either broken or dirty and unappealing. When reluctant to drink the public water supply, many low-income families spend more than 10 percent of their earnings to buy bottled water. Many also choose to consume sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) instead of water.

This is a serious health concern, particularly because diabetes in California has increased by 35 percent during the last 10 years. A UCLA Center for Health and Policy Research study found that nearly half of all California adults are prediabetic.

The California Endowment launched Agua4All in 2014, a pilot project in partnership with nonprofit organizations Rural Community Assistance Corporation, Community Water Center and Pueblo Unido CDC.

Agua4All raises awareness about California’s drinking water crisis; builds community partnerships to install water bottle filling stations in schools and neighborhoods where they’re needed most; identifies funding sources; and develops long-term solutions for California’s water quality and access problems.

When the pilot concluded, RCAC expanded the project statewide to help other disadvantaged communities throughout rural California, including but not limited to Fresno, Kern, Lake, Merced, Riverside, San Diego and Tulare counties.

Wally the waterdrop-Agua4All mascot.
Wally the Water Droplet, the Agua4All mascot, holding a drawing created by a young member of the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians who attended an Agua4All educational assembly.

Since the program’s launch, RCAC’s team has installed 580 water bottle filling stations, in California statewide, and 177 point-of-use arsenic filters in six Arvin schools and various community buildings and parks. To date, we have delivered 629,147 gallons of potable water to the kids and community members in Arvin. That is the equivalent of removing five million 16-ounce bottles of water in the community.

Read about our most recent success story in Palermo, California.

In November 2019, the Center for Disease Control, Preventing Chronic Diseases, published an in-depth original research article featuring Agua4All. The study concluded that, “Bottle-filling stations with safe water and site-led promotion are a promising strategy for increasing water intake in communities without safe tap water. Larger studies should examine the effects of such stations on intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and on overall health.”

For details on the expansion in 2018, read “Agua4All program expands to schools and Tribes across California.”

In summer 2016, evaluation results showed students and community members in the Eastern Coachella Valley and Kern County are drinking more water. For consumption details, read “Eastern Coachella Valley students drink more water thanks to Agua4All program,” — this article was published in August, 2016 after program evaluation showed increased water consumption.)

For more information on how you can get a water bottle filling station in your school or community, email agua4all@rcac.org.

To see where units have been installed in the Eastern Coachella Valley, click here >>

To see where units have been installed in Kern County, click here >>