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Drinking Water for Students in Schools

Chapter 558 of the Statutes of 2010 (Senate Bill 1413, Leno) establishes California Education Code (EC) Section 38086, which requires school districts to provide access to free, fresh drinking water during meal times.

Making Free, Fresh Drinking Water Available to Students During Meal Times
Complying with California Senate Bill 1413 (Leno)

Chapter 558 of the Statutes of 2010 (Senate Bill [SB] 1413, Leno) establishes California Education Code (EC) Section 38086, which requires school districts to provide access to free, fresh drinking water during meal times in school food service areas by July 1, 2011, unless the governing board of a school district adopts a resolution stating it is unable to comply with this requirement due to fiscal constraints or health and safety concerns.

Legislative Background

In February 2010, at his 2010 Summit on Health, Nutrition, and Obesity, then Governor Schwarzenegger announced his sponsorship of SB 1413, citing the importance of promoting water consumption and decreasing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption as strategies to support obesity prevention and improved long-term health. On September 30, 2010, the Governor signed SB 1413 into law, which adds the following provisions under EC Section 38086:

“…a school district shall provide access to free, fresh drinking water during meal times in the food service areas of the schools..., including, but not necessarily limited to, areas where reimbursable meals under the National School Lunch Program or federal School Breakfast Program are served or consumed.”

Ensuring compliance with this new law will be a district-wide responsibility. Districts may want to develop an implementation plan that includes input and participation from facility planning and maintenance, food service, parents, and school administration.

This requirement is effective July 1, 2011.

Health Implications

Overweight and obesity among children of all ages is a national epidemic, with one in three children categorized as overweight or obese. Research shows that consuming water in place of sugar-sweetened beverages and juice can help combat obesity, since such beverage substitutions result in lowered caloric intake. One school-based strategy to combat the obesity epidemic is to encourage an increase in the consumption of water. Recent research cites that many children in the United States may not be drinking enough water. In California, a survey by the California Department of Public Health’s Project Leaders Encouraging Activity and Nutrition (LEAN), found that approximately 40 percent of responding school districts reported that they did not provide access to free drinking water during school meals. In addition to the positive nutritional impact, proper hydration can also improve academic and physical performance. For more information and background on water and its health impacts, please visit the California Food Policy Advocates Web site Water in Schools External link opens in new window or tab..

California Project LEAN Water Survey

In 2009, California Project LEAN conducted a survey of more than 200 school districts to determine the availability of drinking water in California schools. The survey revealed the following top three reasons students did not access free water at those schools where it was available:

  • The water in the fountains or dispensers is not cold.
  • Schools do not have enough water fountains for the number of students.
  • Water fountains or dispensers are poorly maintained.
Increasing Access to Water

The California Department of Education (CDE) encourages school districts to consider a proactive approach to expanding access and increasing water consumption by both students and district staff. The most important way to encourage increased water consumption is to have free, fresh drinking water readily available and accessible. Districts will want to consider the short and long term facility, maintenance, cost, and environmental impacts of how they provide water to students. The following provides a brief list of best practices to encourage increased water consumption. For additional best practices, including photos and other useful tools, please visit the California Food Policy Advocates Web site Water in Schools External link opens in new window or tab..

  • Provide or Plan for Chilled/Filtered Drinking Stations

Providing refrigerated water stations (also known as hydration stations or water jets) that dispense cold, fresh, and often filtered water that can quickly fill a cup or a reusable water bottle. These stations are typically located in the cafeteria, near school entrances, or on playgrounds, where students are most likely to be thirsty and seek water. If such stations are beyond the district’s current means, consider including these improvements in the school’s long term school modernization plans as a worthwhile investment.

  • Provide Water Dispensers in the Cafeteria/Food Service Area

Another alternative to installing a water station is placing large containers of chilled tap water in the cafeteria during meal times. Some schools fill large dispensers with fresh drinking water and place them in the walk-in refrigerator overnight. At lunch time, they move the water dispensers into the food service area. This encourages increased water consumption by all students, not just those who participate in the meal program.

  • Maintain School Site Water Fountains

Ensure that all water fountains on school grounds are operating properly and are cleaned daily. This includes verifying that there is enough water pressure in the fountain to maintain an adequate stream of potable, preferably chilled, water for drinking. Depending upon the school size, fountains alone may not be an adequate source of drinking water. In such cases, school districts will want to consider additional water sources.

If new schools are being planned in your district, work with your district facility staff to ensure that adequate water sources are located throughout the school, especially in areas where food is served and where students participate in physical education.

If your district is modernizing existing schools, work with your district facility staff early in the planning stages to identify ways to provide new drinking fountains and refurbish existing ones.

  • Best Practice Strategies for Schools to Encourage Water Consumption
  1. Marketing and advertising:
  • Design a brochure and/or poster contest with students. Post the entries around the school campus.
  • Create a flyer and/or e-mail highlighting the importance of drinking water, what the district is doing to promote drinking water, and include how parents and caregivers can help support students drinking water at school by sending material home to parents.
  • Incorporate the availability and healthfulness of consuming water in the morning school announcements.
  1. Provide low-cost water bottles with clip to attach to student’s backpack.
Water Consumption in the Reimbursable Meal Programs

Federal and state regulations do not prohibit water from being served during meal times as long as it does not replace a reimbursable meal component.

Water Safety

Providing water to children is very important; however, there may be concerns about the safety of water in your community or schools. We recommend that you work with your community and local water district to address any concerns about water quality before providing tap water routinely.

Compliance Issues

SB 1413 states that if a school district cannot provide access to free, fresh drinking water during meal times in the food service areas, the governing board of a school district must adopt a resolution stating that it is unable to comply and demonstrating the reasons why due to fiscal constraints or health and/or safety concerns. The statute requires the resolution to be publicly noticed on at least two consecutive meeting agendas, and approved by at least a majority of the governing board.

It is the school district’s responsibility to determine how it will implement the new law, effective July 1, 2011.

Forthcoming Federal Regulations on Drinking Water

In December 2010, Congress enacted the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Section 203 of this law states“ [s]chools participating in the school lunch program under this Act shall make available to children free of charge, as nutritionally appropriate, potable water for consumption in the place where meals are served during meal service.’’ The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is developing additional regulations that will be released sometime in 2013. The CDE will distribute additional guidance after the USDA releases its regulations.

Funding Opportunities

State funds for the construction and modernization of school facilities are available for qualifying school districts. For more information, please visit the Department of General Services, Office of Public School Construction web page External link opens in new window or tab..

Successful Implementation

Successful implementation of California’s new water access law will require participation of key groups and district personnel including, but not limited to, facility planning and maintenance, food service, parents, and school administration.

For more information regarding encouraging water consumption, please contact the Nutrition Services Division Nutrition Education Specialist Mike Danzik by phone at 916-445-7346, or by e-mail at

For general advice on the planning of new construction or modernization projects, contact the CDE’s School Facilities Planning Division Field Representative assigned to your county. The list of county assignments is available at School Facilities Staff or by phone at 916-322-2470.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, April 16, 2019
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