Background/The Need

Access to affordable safe drinking water provides a foundation for healthy communities and schools, but millions of Americans still go without this access. This is especially of concern for children, who are one of the most susceptible populations when it comes to the negative health impacts of poor water quality.

The Flint water crisis in 2014 elevated the conversation on lead in drinking water, in particular, and states and the federal government took action. With additional funding for lead testing programs and more rigorous requirements under the pending Lead and Copper Rule Revision, we may uncover additional unhealthy lead levels at schools and childcare facilities across the country. Mitigating these issues once discovered will be a challenge for public water systems and schools/childcare facilities alike, especially those in rural disadvantaged communities where resources and technical capacity are limited.

Older plumbing materials in schools and/or childcare facilities may contribute to elevated lead levels in drinking water, regardless if the water is considered safe to drink when entering the facility. The potential for lead to leach into water increases the longer the water remains in contact with leaded plumbing materials. As a result, facilities with intermittent water use patterns, such as schools, may be more likely to have elevated lead concentrations in drinking water. Large building and school closures due to COVID-19 are likely to only exacerbate the problem.

Even in communities where the water is safe to drink, 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 buying bottled water, which has much less stringent regulations than tap water. Extensive use of bottled water also has major environmental impacts. Many also choose to consume sugar-sweetened beverages instead of water. This adds to existing challenges around the country with childhood obesity and early onset type 2 diabetes, which disproportionately impact communities of color.

Agua4All Program Benefits

The Agua4All program provides safe drinking water in schools and communities by:

  • Raising awareness about the importance of safe drinking water.
  • Building community partnerships to install safe water taps in schools and neighborhoods where they’re needed most.
  • Developing long-term solutions for rural water quality and access problems.

Agua4All can support specific projects to:

  • Fund bottle filling stations in schools and key community sites to help access and deliver safe, appealing, and affordable drinking water through a fountain spout and/or by filling up reusable water bottles. In areas where safe water is not accessible, certified water treatment, like a Point-of-Use filter, can be installed to treat drinking water on-site.
  • Fund reusable bottles for students and staff use to further encourage increased water consumption.
  • Reduce disposable plastic bottle waste by encouraging tap water consumption and reusable water bottle use. Filling stations can include counters that measure impact showing reduced use of disposable plastic water bottles.
  • Provide student and community education on local water quality issues and promote healthy beverage choices.
  • Provide capacity building via training and technical assistance to school and community sites to ensure ongoing safe water access and the long-term operations and maintenance of newly added filling station and/or filter infrastructure.
  • Ensure students stay hydrated, which has been linked to higher academic performance.
  • Establish models and success stories for other schools, communities, funders and policy makers on how to access and promote safe water.

Impact

Agua4All was originally launched in 2014 by the California Endowment, RCAP’s western partner, the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), Community Water Center and Pueblo Unido CDC. Their success in California has led to opportunities to expand to programs in Texas, Missouri, Montana and Virginia. Program expansion has been made possible through partnerships with CoBank and the Chris Long Foundation.

In 2021, Agua4All expanded to Alabama, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

On Earth Day in 2021, RCAP hosted a virtual event that brought together students, teachers and administrators from schools in Missouri, Montana, and Virginia to celebrate the impact and importance of safe drinking water, Agua4All project work and engage with Chris Long, former NFL player and founder of the Chris Long foundation, and other sponsors of the Agua4All program.

 

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Need more information?
Looking for assistance?

If you are interested in learning more about the Agua4All program, please contact Sarah Buck, RCAP Director of Strategic Initiatives & Regional Collaboration: [email protected]