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Information Alert: Access to Free Water

Nutrition Services Division Information Alert

To: Child Nutrition Program Sponsors

Number: USDA-SNP-08-2011

Attention: Food Service Directors

Date: June 2011
Subject: Access to Free Water
Reference: 2010 Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization, Section 203; SP-28-2011 (USDA Policy on supplying free water to students during the meal period)
Superseded By: Management Bulletin USDA-SNP-27-2012 dated July 2012

This Information Alert (IA) notifies National School Lunch Program (NSLP) sponsors that Section 203 of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (Act) requires schools on NSLP to provide free drinking water where reimbursable meals are served during the meal period. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has also issued Policy Memo SP 28-2011 (Memo) regarding the implementation of Section 203, which is available at the USDA Web page

The Memo provides examples for implementing the act, reinforces that water is not an allowable component of a reimbursable meal, and notes that a district food service department can apply reasonable charges to the non-profit food service account to implement the requirements of this section.

The goal of this requirement is to provide free water to all students of the school, not just to the students participating in the NLSP. Therefore, the Nutrition Services Division (NSD) strongly recommends schools and districts include the district’s facilities and maintenance operation, as well as district administration, in the implementation and financial planning of this endeavor.

The USDA encourages districts to implement this rule no later than the start of the 2011–12 school year. The USDA will provide additional guidance (through a question and answer document) in the coming months, and will release proposed regulations in December 2011 that will include specific details regarding allowable costs and other implementation requirements.

Unlike Senate Bill 1413 (California Education Code Section 38086, available at the CDE Drinking Water for Students in Schools Web page, schools participating in the NSLP must comply with this requirement and, therefore, cannot opt out of providing free drinking water to students.

Attached is a comparison of Senate Bill 1413 and Section 203 of the Act.

Please note that the California Department of Education’s (CDE) NSD will develop a more comprehensive management bulletin (MB) on this issue that will supersede this IA. The NSD will post both the MB and the IA to the CDE’s Web site.

For more information regarding encouraging water consumption, please contact Mike Danzik, Nutrition Education Specialist, 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 at the CDE Web page or by phone at 916-322-2470.


Comparison of Senate Bill 1413 and Section 203 of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010

Item Senate Bill 1413 (Leno) Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Section 203
Implementation Date July 1, 2011 Encouraged to implement prior to start of 2011-12 school year
Water access

Free drinking water

Free drinking water
When During meal time During meal time
Where In food service area* Only where meals are served

School district can decide how to supply free drinking water to students

School district can decide how to supply free drinking water to students

Who is required to implement District may opt out of requirement Districts that participate in the NSLP cannot opt out of requirement
Types of schools required to implement ALL public, non-charter schools in California

Schools/districts participating in NSLP (includes public, private, charter, RCCI, etc.)

Additional information No additional rulings due out USDA to issue Frequently Asked Questions and proposed regulations which will include additional details. Proposed regulations due out in December 2011

*Food Service Area defined by USDA as anywhere school meals are served and/or eaten.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Friday, August 30, 2019
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