Toxic drink­ing water is a pub­lic health cri­sis — here’s a path to ur­gent ac­tion

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION -

Water is a ba­sic ne­ces­sity of life, but over one mil­lion Cal­i­for­ni­ans lack ac­cess to clean, safe and af­ford­able drink­ing water, says Gov. Gavin New­som. Six mil­lion Cal­i­for­ni­ans re­ceive their water from op­er­a­tors who have been fined for vi­o­lat­ing the state’s clean water laws in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to a 2018 in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Mc­Clatchy.

“In many com­mu­ni­ties, peo­ple drink, shower, cook and wash dishes with water con­tain­ing ex­ces­sive amounts of pol­lu­tants, in­clud­ing ar­senic, ni­trates and ura­nium,” ac­cord­ing to a Sacra­mento Bee story by Dale Kasler, Phillip Reese and Ryan Sa­balow.

Many of those af­fected by the lack of safe water live in poorer and more ru­ral ar­eas, and a big por­tion of those com­mu­ni­ties are here in the Cen­tral Val­ley.

The lack of clean drink­ing water seems like the kind of pub­lic health cri­sis that lead­ers in 21st cen­tury Cal­i­for­nia would tackle with ur­gency. An En­vi­ron­men­tal Work­ing Group study re­leased last month said that “toxic drink­ing water could lead to more than 15,000 life­time cancer cases through­out the state,” ac­cord­ing to a story by The Sacra­mento Bee’s Han­nah Wi­ley.

De­spite these grim facts, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble the Leg­is­la­ture will fail to de­liver on a clean water so­lu­tion this year.

Ev­ery­one agrees Cal­i­for­ni­ans de­serve safe and clean drink­ing water. They just dis­agree on how to fund the nec­es­sary fixes. In Jan­uary, New­som pro­posed a “water tax” to es­tab­lish a $140 mil­lion-ayear stream of fund­ing for projects and on­go­ing op­er­a­tions to pro­vide clean water in af­fected com­mu­ni­ties.

A tax, how­ever, re­quires a twothirds vote in the Leg­is­la­ture to pass – a feat not even Gov. Jerry Brown man­aged to pull off. New­som’s proposal also en­coun­tered strong re­sis­tance, and a state Se­nate bud­get sub­com­mit­tee re­jected it last month.

Mus­ter­ing leg­isla­tive votes for a new tax is al­ways a tough sell. But it’s es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult when state cof­fers are brim­ming with bil­lions of dol­lars in sur­plus funds.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing the lack of sup­port for a tax, a state Se­nate bud­get sub­com­mit­tee has pro­posed mov­ing ahead with fund­ing for Se­nate Bill 200 by Carmel Demo­crat Bill Mon­ning. SB 200, in com­bi­na­tion with the bud­get sub­com­mit­tee’s proposal, would al­lo­cate $150 mil­lion a year from the gen­eral fund for clean water.

While tax rev­enues are stream­ing into the state’s gen­eral fund at record lev­els, why not chan­nel some of it to­wards this ma­jor pub­lic health cri­sis? What’s the value of an over­flow­ing rainy day fund when your peo­ple can’t even drink the water from their taps?

If SB 200 passes along with the Se­nate bud­get proposal for fund­ing, it would pro­vide $150 mil­lion for clean water start­ing on July 1. If, by chance, a fu­ture Leg­is­la­ture finds the ever-elu­sive votes for water taxes, they can be sub­sti­tuted in for the gen­eral fund money.

The ques­tion isn’t whether the glass is half-empty or half-full. The ques­tion is whether the water in the glass is clean or poi­sonous. For too many Cal­i­for­ni­ans, the lat­ter is true.

The health and safety of mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans hangs in the bal­ance. We urge the gov­er­nor and the state’s leg­isla­tive lead­ers to fig­ure out what’s ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble and stop kick­ing the water can down the road. Af­ter all, it’s been seven years since Cal­i­for­nia passed the Hu­man Right to Water Act, which de­clares that ev­ery­one “has the right to safe, clean, af­ford­able and ac­ces­si­ble water ad­e­quate for hu­man con­sump­tion, cook­ing and san­i­tary pur­poses.”

Of course, the lofty law – one page long – did not pro­vide any fund­ing for clean water. The SB 200 pack­age will rem­edy this, and will also al­low state lead­ers to fi­nally ad­dress Cal­i­for­nia’s lack of clean drink­ing water with the ur­gency the is­sue de­serves.

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