Although California officially recognizes the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water for all citizens, the Human Right to Water law passed in 2012 has no teeth, according to urban planning researchers at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
In a new study published this month in the journal Environmental Justice, co-authors Gregory Pierce and Silvia González looked at drinking water access and quality in mobile home parks, a significant but often-overlooked segment of the California population.
“Right now, I don’t think state and local policymakers are focusing nearly enough attention on this issue,” said Pierce, an adjunct assistant professor of urban planning and a senior researcher on water and transportation initiatives at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
Co-author González, a doctoral student in urban planning and assistant director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at Luskin, said that while the water rights law reinforces the state’s commitment to universal access to clean water, and there are many efforts to implement the law, it does not provide strong enforcement mechanisms or funds for new programs.
Although some existing research broadly suggests that water service and quality in the state’s mobile home parks is substandard, Pierce and González said that a lack of literature and targeted studies on the subject spurred their research. It is based on a range of quantitative and qualitative sources, including more than 1,300 news reports related to mobile home water access.
The study found that mobile home parks are:
- likely to incur more health-related violations than other systems
- four times more likely than the general population to experience a significant service shutoff (more than 24 hours)
- 40 percent more likely to rely on groundwater, a known risk for reliability and quality
In their report, the authors said they were surprised to find that available data on water system reliability suggest that mobile home parks in California are as likely as the general population to be served by community water systems. The authors pointed out that mobile home parks are more likely to have small water systems, a characteristic well-documented to diminish access.
“This demonstrates that any deficiencies in water service in parks are indeed problems for which the public sector maintains oversight and authority to rectify,” the researchers said in the study.
Pierce and González also found that evidence on affordability was less conclusive, but they suggested that the cost of drinking water could pose an “outsized” burden on some mobile home park residents who, because of its reliability and quality, may purchase bottled water, which is more expensive than alternative water sources.
Pierce said that he hopes progress will be made in the coming years, “but the trend is not promising at this point.”
“The key message I tried to convey is that access issues faced by mobile home park water systems reflect inequities both in the governance of drinking water systems more generally and in landlord-tenant relations in mobile home parks,” Pierce said. “A lot of the issues faced by tenants are caused by landlord neglect.”
González pointed out that, specifically in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s most unaffordable housing markets, residents also experience the pressures of gentrification and displacement.
“As manufactured housing becomes an increasingly important affordable housing option, policymakers need to ensure these residents aren’t being put at a disproportionate health risk, and address accessibility and affordability issues when they are,” González said.