June 14, 2013
Earlier this week the California Senate Committee on Environmental Quality took on 6 Assembly Bills that were proposed as a way of making safe drinking water accessible for all Californians. Traditionally, contamination from agricultural and industrial sources have left thousands of people with little to no access to contaminant-free water for drinking or household tasks. This issue generally affects impoverished and rural communities more strongly that their more affluent counterparts. In the San Joaquin Valley communities like Lanare, Orosi, Hanford, and Merced among many others face this hazardous truth and rely on bottled water as an alternative to their water needs. This alternative of course, represents an added burden to low income families, and in no way helps with the water bill that most pay even for unusable water.
Under current law, U.S. EPA and Cal EPA require the Department of Public Health to regulate drinking water and to enforce the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) regulations, as well as authorizes DPH to administer and implement the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SDWSRF). Critics of the Department of Public Health have been interested in making a case against the poor management of this water fund by an organization that does not specialize in water. Many of course feel that this fund should be passed on to State Water Resources Control Board that already has authority over state water rights and water quality. Assembly members Henry T. Perea of the 31st district and Anthony Rendon of the 63rd district introduced AB 145 which transfers the “duties and responsibilities related to the regulation and oversight of drinking water, including the authority to administer SDWSRF from DPH to SWRCB.”
This bill sparked a long debate about the strengths and weaknesses of both DPH and SWRCB. The authors of the bill assure that this will create greater benefit to the water network and will make a more efficient process to safe drinking water. This bill faces some opposition from traditionally strong water districts that feel that DPH is currently managing the responsibility effectively. Some argue that it is unfair to change a strong system in order to fix a little part of the problem. In other words, simply because there are some communities that have been receiving poor water, that doesn’t merit changing the whole structure even for communities that have been receiving clean water, instead the focus should be to bring those communities to a clean water standard within the regulations of the current program.
Central California Environmental Justice Network stands in support of AB 145 simply because it establishes a greater level of transparency than is currently the norm. Under the State Water Resources Control Board there is an opportunity for public forums and public discussion. Because the Board has to hold public meetings and all information in the meetings is public–it establishes a scenario in which the community can actively participate in decisions and regulations of Safe Drinking Water. Another area that CCEJN supports is the bill’s work to expand the ability of small rural communities to apply for grants from the state revolving fund. This newly defined classification system will allow and encourage consolidation of small communities to apply as one area seeking clean water. This makes the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund more efficient and gives communities a stronger opportunity for receiving funding to exploit and maintain clean water sources.
Other bills that were introduced during this hearing were: AB 115 which authorizes funding under the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to projects that benefit disadvantaged communities by expanding applicant eligibility to smaller water systems; AB 21 which creates a small community fund to address contaminated water in small communities; AB 30 eliminates the sunset date (ending date: currently 2014) and funding cap of the Small Community Wastewater Grant Fund; AB 1118 Environmental Safety and Toxic Mateials and AB 119 which faced no opposition and simply made regulations to the current DPH administration to making the process of fund applications faster and more reliable.
All of these bills passed the Committee and will now go to the committee on health or toxic substances depending their subject. AB 145 will be in review by the committee on health and voted on by the members. In order to assure that this bill passes we ask that you contact the following senators and ask them to support AB 145 because it establishes a public forum and invites community input in issues of water. The Senate Committee on Health is composed by Senators: Ed Hernandez (Chair), Joel Anderson (Vice Chair), Jim Beall, Kevin de Leon, Mark Desaulnier, Bill Monning, Jim Nelsen, Fran Pavley, and Lois Wolk. For their individual contact information please visit: http://shea.senate.ca.gov/ .
After the hearing a group of local activists and residents followed up by visiting these legislators and asking for their support, but we need to make sure that the community remains engaged and continues to follow up with the legislators. CCEJN asks you to take a few minutes to call the Senate Committee on Health and ask for support on these very important bills.