Tap Water Distrust Among Parents and Caregivers in Kern County, CA

UCLA study highlights Latinos’ distrust of tap water and solutions that could improve consumption and use of tap water by residents.

"I don't trust the water companies. Of course, they're going to tell us the water is good to drink. They've told us for years that the water is good to drink up here." - Caregiver, Focus Group Respondent

By Grace Harrison

New research by UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute and the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation in partnership with First 5 Kern in Kern County, CA found that regardless of race & ethnicity, ~77% of all surveyed caregivers and in Kern County felt concerned with the safety of the tap water in their homes.

The study reveals key drivers of tap water distrust such as poor residential plumbing, negative health experiences of friends and family with tap water and distrust of local water systems. Among all study participants, 60% reported a bad experience with tap water inside or outside their home. Similar proportions were observed for Latino respondents (84% and 68%, respectively). Only 10% of all participants reported using unfiltered water straight from the tap as their primary source of drinking water, where 0% Latino caretakers surveyed reported using water straight from the tap as their main source. Tap alternatives such as bottled water and/or filtered tap water can be expensive alternatives in addition to a household’s water bill, and distrust of tap water can lead to less water consumption and more consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

The most popular solution to improve tap water mistrust and disuse among survey respondents was at-the-tap water testing with 48% of all respondents and 71% of Latino respondents favoring this solution.

Given these findings, the researchers offer recommendations for decision-makers to achieve safe, affordable, and accessible water for all Californians.

  • Create grant and loan programs to improve residential premise plumbing to address residents’ concerns about the quality and safety of their households plumbing.
  • Fund community-based research specifically in Latino communities where increased distrust is seen to better understand the drivers of distrust and disuse.
  • Fund trusted community-based organizations to design and implement evidence-based public education campaigns to address the unique drivers of distrust in their local communities.

This research comes at the heels of the Biden Administration’s $9 billion investment and newly announced national standard to combat PFAS in drinking water, in addition to $391 million investment by the CA EPA for essential drinking water infrastructure upgrades.

To view the full report, click here. To view the press release from the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute, click here.