Safe H2O a limited re­source

Bill aims to help many liv­ing with­out clean, af­ford­able wa­ter

Porterville Recorder - - FRONT PAGE - recorder@porter­villere­

More than one mil­lion Cal­i­for­ni­ans and 300 com­mu­ni­ties are sub­jected to sim­i­lar liv­ing con­di­tions in third-world coun­tries, specif­i­cally with re­gard to re­li­able ac­cess to safe drink­ing wa­ter, an is­sue Se­nate Bill (SB) 623 aims to re­solve. If passed, SB 623 would, among other things, es­tab­lish a Safe and Af­ford­able Drink­ing Wa­ter Fund in the State Trea­sury and pro­vide that mon­eys in the fund are con­tin­u­ously ap­pro­pri­ated to the state board. The bill would re­quire the board to ad­min­is­ter the fund to se­cure ac­cess to safe drink­ing wa­ter for all Cal­i­for­ni­ans, while also en­sur­ing the long-term sus­tain­abil­ity of drink­ing wa­ter ser­vice and in­fra­struc­ture.

Jonathan Nel­son, the pol­icy di­rec­tor for the Com­mu­nity Wa­ter Cen­ter, said SB 623, a twoyear bill, is the an­swer to many of the state’s wa­ter prob­lems, es­pe­cially in Tu­lare County.

“The scope of need and the scale of need is tremen­dous in the Tu­lare County area,” Nel­son said, adding, “There is not an area in Cal­i­for­nia that will ben­e­fit more from pas­sage of SB 623 than the Tu­lare County area.”

Nel­son said Tu­lare County and other ar­eas in the state will con­tinue to face se­vere drink­ing wa­ter chal­lenges “un­til we are suc­cess­ful in pass­ing a bill like SB 623.”

En­sur­ing that the wa­ter meets qual­ity stan­dards that are al­ready in place, is just half of the bill. The other part is mak­ing sure peo­ple can af­ford the wa­ter. Some ar­eas of the state that have been out of com­pli­ance, Nel­son said, peo­ple are spend­ing too much of their in­come on wa­ter — for ex­am­ple fam­i­lies are hav­ing to buy bot­tled wa­ter be­cause the wa­ter is not safe to drink — mak­ing pas­sage of SB 623 crit­i­cal.

“I think that is why it is re­ally im­por­tant for con­stituents in the Tu­lare County area to both be aware of this bill, and be aware of the drink­ing wa­ter cri­sis that is right in their back­yard that af­fects many of them,” Nel­son said.

He added that county res­i­dents should also call upon their lo­cal leg­is­la­ture rep­re­sen­ta­tives to sup­port the bill when it comes up for a vote next year.

In or­der for SB 623 to pass, Nel­son said at least two-thirds of the leg­is­la­ture has to vote in sup­port of it.

“That means you need at least 54 votes in the as­sem­bly,” Nel­son said, adding, “That is not an easy bar to jump over.”

Su­sana De Anda with Com­mu­nity Wa­ter Cen­ter en­cour­ages the leg­is­la­ture to act as swiftly as pos­si­ble to re­solve Cal­i­for­nia’s long-stand­ing drink­ing wa­ter cri­sis.

“This cri­sis af­fects our Val­ley, and SB 623 is a needed so­lu­tion,” she said.

Alyssa Houtby with Cal­i­for­nia Cit­rus Mu­tual agreed, stat­ing that too many fam­i­lies in the Cen­tral Val­ley live with­out safe, clean wa­ter as a re­sult of both man­made and nat­u­rally-oc­cur­ring con­tam­i­nants in the ground­wa­ter.

“SB 623 is a bal­anced, com­pre­hen­sive and sus­tain­able so­lu­tion that en­sures small com­mu­ni­ties in the Cen­tral Val­ley and statewide have safe and af­ford­able wa­ter,” Houtby said.

Out of the 300 com­mu­ni­ties cur­rently out of com­pli­ance with safe drink­ing wa­ter stan­dards, more than 150 are lo­cated in the San Joaquin Val­ley.

One of such com­mu­ni­ties, Nel­son said, is lo­cated in East Porter­ville, an un­in­cor­po­rated com­mu­nity in Tu­lare County where hun­dreds of res­i­dences have been with­out safe, clean drink­ing wa­ter for years be­cause much of the area has not been hooked up to the city’s sys­tem, in­stead re­ly­ing on shal­low wa­ter wells or non-com­pli­ant small wa­ter dis­tricts.

“I was like wow,” said Porter­ville res­i­dent Daniel Pe­naloza, af­ter hear­ing the dev­as­tat­ing news.

The com­mu­nity has been re­garded by many to be the poster child in the state’s drink­ing wa­ter cri­sis, a cri­sis Nel­son be­lieves is much larger in scope than that of Flint, Michi­gan.

“It has been a prob­lem for decades and it has par­tic­u­larly been an is­sue in parts of Cal­i­for­nia like the Cen­tral Val­ley and Tu­lare County where you have lots of in­dus­trial agri­cul­ture op­er­at­ing and where you can also find nat­u­ral­ly­oc­cur­ring con­tam­i­nants in the ground like ar­senic,” Nel­son said.

Nel­son said the Com­mu­nity Wa­ter Cen­ter has been work­ing tire­lessly to se­cure safe and af­ford­able drink­ing wa­ter since the or­ga­ni­za­tion was founded 11 years ago.

“We’ve made progress, but un­til we take this last and fi­nal step of cre­at­ing a sus­tain­able fund­ing source to make sure that all of our com­mu­ni­ties can have the re­sources to pro­vide safe drink­ing wa­ter, we are go­ing to have what we see to­day, which is a drink­ing wa­ter cri­sis that af­fects far too many peo­ple,” he said.

Pe­naloza, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Coali­tion for Hu­mane Im­mi­grant Rights of Los An­ge­les (CHIRLA), a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Los An­ge­les, be­lieves the goal is also to strike a bal­ance be­tween help­ing res­i­dents and the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try.

“We have to fig­ure out the bal­ance be­tween find­ing ways to pro­vide wa­ter to agri­cul­ture be­cause they pro­vide the jobs and op­por­tu­ni­ties here in our econ­omy, but, at the same time, we bal­ance the fact that com­mu­ni­ties also need to have ac­cess to wa­ter,” Pe­naloza said, adding, “We have to find so­lu­tions.” Nel­son agreed. “This is a health cri­sis and a moral cri­sis,” Nel­son said. “If you have an en­tire re­gion or re­gions in the state that can’t even pro­vide this most ba­sic of hu­man ne­ces­si­ties, that is a prob­lem not only for that area, but that is a prob­lem for all of Cal­i­for­nia, which is why we need to join hands to­gether to solve it.”

As of early Septem­ber, SB 623 moved from the As­sem­bly Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee to the As­sem­bly Rules Com­mit­tee. The leg­is­la­ture will re­con­vene in Jan­uary of next year.

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