Group B Water systems are small systems designed to provide drinking water to small businesses and communities across the state.  These systems (those defined at 15 or fewer connections and fewer than 25 people served) are really important for rural development where larger public utilities do not provide service.

The Department of Health (DOH) and local health jurisdictions (LHJs) share the responsibility of Group B systems.  It is important to keep this program growing for our rural citizens to have safe drinking water.  For the ’17-’19 biennium, DOH requested $1M ($500,000/year) in general fund to support LHJs maintenance and expansion of Group B Programs.  Unfortunately, this funding has not been included in the operating or supplemental budgets.  With no funding, there is a strong likelihood that LHJs will have to stop this program.

DOH and LHJs agree – Group B is best implemented locally and in areas that have a high prevalence of small water systems – rural counties.  In 2003, the Legislature funded an assessment of 31 LHJ’s Group B public water systems and found significant problems involving very basic public health protection measures that were not in order, and not even the very basic water quality monitoring tests completed.

As a result, DOH began funding LHJs to implement Group B programs.  With local implementation, LHJs have the flexibility to provide in-person technical assistance, approve and monitor new water systems that DOH cannot.  This flexibility also provides citizens a better opportunity to pursue their economic interests while also enabling local governments the ability to better satisfy their communities’ interests and needs.

Local implementation of Group B is also a cost saver.  It would cost DOH Office of Drinking Water almost $16 million a year to fully implement Group B at the level of complexity as locals do; monitoring oversight, technical assistance, inspections, compliance, and system inventory.

Funding local Group B programs gives LHJs the tools to protect the health of residents on small water systems.  Stable state funding has and would continue to allow more LHJs to accept Group B program responsibilities and also increase the capacity of LHJs already involved.  Since the 2017 pilot, 6 LHJs covering 8 counties have adopted their own local ordinance on Group B (the highest level of local involvement).  These counties include; Ferry, Stevens, Pend-Oreille, Lincoln, Okanogan, Grant, Klickitat and Grays Harbor.

For these and other counties – particularly in rural areas in Washington funding is vital for them to maintain their local capacity (which has been shown to be the most effective) in ensuring safe and reliable drinking water on Group B systems in their jurisdictions.  Currently, funding for local Group B programs will end in June, 2018.  LHJs need your support in telling legislators the value and importance of this program.

For more information on Group B water systems please click here.

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Jaime Bodden

Jaime Bodden is the Managing Director for WSALPHO. Previously, Jaime managed and oversaw the operations of a small health department as Health Officer/Director. Additionally, Jaime has experience in community engagement, health promotion, global health, and health policy. She holds Master degrees in Social Work and Public Health from Washington University in St. Louis.
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