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The clean drinking water guarantee

Posted: Friday, Jan 11th, 2013




A pregnant woman carries a bucket of drinking water from a neighborhood well into her home so she can make dinner.

A community waits anxiously as their only source of drinking water, a weekly truck, is delayed.  

A small child drinks contaminated tap water and gets sick.

These are not stories from third-world countries. They happen here in California on a daily basis, despite the fact that state law recognizes the right all people have to safe and accessible drinking water.  

Most of us assume we will have clean drinking water when we turn on the faucet, but for more than two million Californians, this isn’t guaranteed. In fact, unless action is taken, the number of people without clean drinking water is likely to grow.

According to the State Water Resources Control Board, there are 265 community public water systems that rely on contaminated groundwater in California; this is unacceptable.

Reports show most community water systems with drinking water standards violations are located in Southern California’s Inland Empire, the east side of the San Joaquin Valley, the Salinas Valley, and the Santa Maria Valley. Families in Kettleman City, Seville, Cutler-Orosi and San Lucas must keep their children from drinking from the tap at home and bottled water is the only safe drinking water available at school.

As members of the California State Assembly, we represent communities facing these problems and we believe bringing clean drinking water to the homes of everyone in California must become a priority for the State Legislature.

Contaminated drinking water disproportionally affects small, rural, low-income communities where people depend mostly on groundwater as their source of drinking water. Disadvantaged communities often rely on small water systems and lack the infrastructure and the financial resources to remove contaminants from the groundwater.

The tireless efforts of many community leaders, clean water advocates, and legislators paid off in September of this year when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Human Right to Water Act. This Act sets the stage for future reforms by declaring that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water. 

But our work is not complete.

With the new legislative session that began on Dec. 3, we have started introducing bills to streamline and improve state programs with the goal of providing sustainable funding for water projects while simplifying the complicated bureaucratic approval process.

We introduced the Small Community Safe Drinking Water Grant Fund to provide immediate and emergency aid to low-income communities that lack a safe source of drinking water. We also introduced legislation that extends a program to fund wastewater treatment projects for small, disadvantaged communities that cannot afford to finance their own water infrastructure projects.

Our other bills will encourage regional approaches to provide safe drinking water at a reasonable cost and will provide the technical assistance that many of these communities need.

We will also introduce bills to ensure we are getting the most out of matching Federal funds for water projects and to allow for the consolidation of multiple small town water systems. All these bills are pieces of a larger puzzle we will continue to put together.

We live in a great state, but for too long the state has left these communities to fend for themselves against water contamination. We urge our colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, to join us in continuing to advocate for our fellow Californians.

California is the home of Hollywood magic and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. We provide the highest standard of living in the world for many people. We can and must make sure that all Californians have safe drinking water.

•••

Assemblymembers Luis Alejo and Henry T. Perea represent the 30th and 31st Assembly Districts, respectively.

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