At least one potential case of E. coli-related illness has been reported at Clover Flat Elementary in Boulevard, confirmed health officials.
While it remains unclear whether E. coli in the water caused the illness, several other parents at the school have told NBC 7 their kids have had to be hospitalized as a result of vomiting and diarrhea.
A water sample tested positive for E. coli on June 16, the last day of school before students were released for summer vacation. The Environmental Health Department conducted an inspection of the system Thursday, and the school is actively working to fix any issues with the water system.
The Department of Public Health has investigated links to E. coli at Clover Flat Elementary. Health officials were not able to conclusively link the symptoms to the water at the school.
They could not rule out other food or drinks the sick student could have consumed during the same period, said a county spokeswoman from the Department of Public Health. Since the school has closed for summer, health officials can't investigate the cafeteria for food poisoning.
The school tests the water quality for issues every month.
Dr. Rita Feghali, Chief of Pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente, explained how an E. coli exposure can put children's health at further risk.
"Yes and you may not know. The symptoms are going to be what leads your doctor to treat you," said Feghali. "You look sick, you have high fevers. You're having pretty bad diarrhea that [makes] you look dehydrated and especially, you may have diarrhea with blood in it."
"It can be life threatening. It can be fatal. It can affect your kidneys, [so] that you need dialysis, so it can be life threatening," added Feghali.
E. coli is especially dangerous for young children and the elderly. When it is discovered in public water systems like parks, campgrounds or small communities, county officials usually send out an alert. That didn't happen in this case.
Instead, county officials say the school was able to handle the issue on its own by sending a voice mail to all parents.
County and school officials confirmed Thursday the water at Clover Flat Elementary in Boulevard is contaminated with E. coli, in response to questions posed by NBC 7 Investigates.
Mountain Empire School District officials are working with County Environmental Health officials to address any health concerns with the water.
Parents were very alarmed about a potential E. coli contamination.
Jacari Cousins, a father of a five-year-old student at the school, told NBC 7 he feared the worst. He asked his doctor to test if his son's recent stomach illness may have been related to the contamination in the water.
He says he has pressed the health department to take action.
"Scared not only for mine but others...I started calling parents. I called the health department, and the health department said they would do an investigation on the whole matter which is very important to me, that they get to the bottom of it. Because E. coli shouldn't be in our school at all," Cousins said.
"For the last five days, he just has not eaten. He has not been able to keep down water. The doctor gave him two popsicles yesterday. He didn't want them," Cousins said.
Five-year-old Jeremiah first experienced violent stomach flu-like symptoms on Friday night. He was hospitalized twice with high fevers, and doctors discovered blood in his urine.
"We were notified by the school Tuesday that the water was contaminated with E. coli," Cousins said.
The family is awaiting test results on whether the school's tainted water caused their son's illness.
The Assistant Superintendent for the Mountain Empire School District said officials are not aware of any illnesses caused by the E. coli, but the district is very concerned.
A county spokeswoman said an order is in effect in Boulevard to boil water.
The district and county officials said they were working together to fix the problem.
The contaminated water in Boulevard highlights a larger issue facing water officials and residents across the state.
Families living in the most rural parts of the county have been more heavily impacted by the drought--not just by water shortages but also by increased exposure to carcinogenic water contamination. Often, they are also in communities too isolated for officials to help with current water infrastructure.
"The impacts of the drought were more widespread than people realize," said Laura Feinstein of the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based think tank focused on advancing solutions to water challenges. "We found that the majority of those drought-impacted public water systems were serving disadvantaged communities."
Five years ago, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation making California the first state in the nation to declare access to clean safe drinking water a fundamental human right.
But NBC 7 Investigates' months-long investigation has found that is a broken promise to more than 18,000 school children, and 3,000 San Diegans living in mostly rural communities like Boulevard, Potrero and Borrego Springs.
NBC 7 Investigates has been at the forefront of examining the water quality in public schools. We have uncovered arsenic, toxic levels of lead, bacteria, and copper all coming from school drinking fountains.
Most of the coverage can be found on our "Safe to Drink" page.