Safe H2O a limited resource
Bill aims to help many living without clean, affordable water
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.