Investing in Water Infrastructure Now is Critical for California's Future

For decades community leaders and environmental justice advocates have worked to bring attention to the water problems impacting low-income communities and communities of color across California. Together they have secured significant water equity wins. In 2012, California became the first state to establish the human right to water.  Substantial new investments have been made to expand access to safe and affordable drinking water. And new requirements have been established to ensure that local planning processes identify water infrastructure deficits in disadvantaged communities and develop strategies to address these deficits.

Despite these important wins, our work is far from done. Over one million Californians live in communities that do not have reliable access to safe drinking water. Many live in places where the cost of water is so high that residents are forced to forgo spending on other critical household needs in order to pay their water bill.  Children attend schools where their drinking water is contaminated with lead.  The availability and quality of our drinking water resources are increasingly impacted by the changing climate.

And drinking water is not the only water challenge low-income communities and communities of color are facing. Dams, water management practices, changing water temperatures due to climate change, and a host of other factors are decimating California’s fisheries—impacting the livelihoods, food sources, and cultural traditions of Native American communities who have managed these natural resources for thousands of years. Climate change induced flooding and sea level rise threaten people’s homes and their lives. Failing or completely absent wastewater treatment systems are causing public health and economic impacts for households and communities.

We have a lot to take care of and investing in our water infrastructure now is critical to begin tackling these problems. While California has a history of leading the nation on protecting its’ natural resources, applying this leadership is more important than ever. The Trump administration has demonstrated over and over their desire to unravel the national Clean Water Act, promote privatization of our water resources and management systems, reopen our coastline to offshore oil drilling, and defund key programs that fund water infrastructure.

To protect what we have already accomplished and secure water equity for all Californian’s it is critical that Californians, and our elected leaders, step up. Fortunately, there are some important things California can do now to secure our water future.  

  • State legislators are considering a variety of important proposals that would address critical water infrastructure challenges for low-income communities and communities of color.
    • SB 623 (Monning) would establish the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, a permanent source of funding for safe and affordable drinking water. Water justice advocates and state water agencies have been calling for this for years. The fund would provide grants to address critical operations and maintenance needs, fund repair and replacement of failing drinking water infrastructure, provide technical assistance, conduct lead pipe replacement, consolidate water systems, and other projects designed to secure long-term safe drinking water for all.
    • AB 1215 (Hertzberg) would bring much needed sewer service to communities that do not have adequate service by facilitating service extension and consolidation of service providers where it makes sense.
    • Advocates are asking for a $23.5 million budget allocation to address emergency drinking water needs.
       
  • Voters can support proposition 68, a bond proposal that is on the June ballot. If passed, $4 billion dollars in bond revenues would be invested in water, parks, and natural resources. Unlike many bonds of the past, proposition 68 includes a significant focus on investing in our most disadvantaged communities.
     
  • California voters and California leaders can also support Rep Keith Ellison’s federal Clean Water Act of 2018, H.R. 5609. The bill would invest $35 billion each year in water infrastructure and clean water programs, and target important resources to communities with clean water violations.

Six years ago, California set a national precedent by recognizing the Human Right to Water.  It’s time to deliver on that promise by addressing the water infrastructure needs of low-income people and people of color across our state.

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Chione L. Flegal
Chione L. Flegal