Governor Newsom Signs Clean Drinking Water Bill

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California's governor on Wednesday signed a law that will take up to $130 million of state money each year that was supposed to clean up the air and instead use it to clean up drinking water.

Despite its status as the world's fifth largest economy, California has struggled to provide the basic service of clean tap water to more than 1 million of its residents. The problem is so severe the state has a grant program to provide bottled water to some communities. As of June, the state was providing bottled water to about 18,000 Californians in 51 communities at a cost of about $4 million, said George Kostyrko of the State Water Resources Control Board. The state does not track the total number of bottles it hands out.

Californians who cannot participate in the program are faced with the choice of drinking dirty water that can include some known cancer-causing contaminants or purchase bottled water on their own. Most grocery stores in the Central Valley have water vending machines, usually consisting of garden hose run through a filter.

California has grant programs that would fund infrastructure to deliver water to these rural communities, including a voter-approved $7.5 billion bond in 2014. But the state does not have a program to provide financing for cash-strapped water systems to operate that equipment, which can be a challenge for smaller systems lacking sufficient revenue.

Newsom proposed a tax on most residential water bills to fix this but the Democratic-controlled state legislature rejected that proposal. Instead, they authorized a plan to take up to $130 million a year over the next decade from a fund that was meant to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

That fund is part of the state's cap and trade program, which requires members of particular industries to buy credits. The program has generated more than $9.5 billion since its inception, and state officials are supposed to use that money to improve the environment.

The drinking water plan has alarmed some environmental groups, who worry it sets a precedent of the state using the cap and trade money for other purposes as the state struggles to meets its emission reduction goals.

The law also requires the State Water Resources Control Board to develop a plan on how to spend the money, including identifying failing water systems that need the most help.

State Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) issued the following statement on Governor Gavin Newsom's visit to the Central Valley today to sign legislation to create safe and affordable drinking water fund:

"Today's signing of SB 200, marks a significant milestone for California. Growing up in the City of Sanger, I, along with my family and friends, encountered firsthand the challenges of limited availability to clean and affordable drinking water. Unfortunately, nearly one million-plus people continue to share that experience including our most vulnerable rural communities throughout the Southern Central Valley."

CFFA, along with other agriculture stakeholders, participated in the discussions surrounding the clean drinking water bill for over three years. While the process of crafting the legislation and the final outcome are not perfect, the Association is pleased to see a final product that advances the cause of clean drinking water.

Please contact Ian LeMay (ilemay@cafreshfruit.com) with any questions.