It will take both short-term and long-term solutions to ensure that all San Joaquín Valley residents have access to clean and affordable drinking water. The 2012 Human Right to Water bill package, which is currently making its way through the legislature, could establish some of those long-term solutions.
Last week, I spoke with Assemblymember Henry T. Perea, who is the author of two of the bills in the package.
“It took decades of bad policy and poor oversight for these communities to get where they are today, and it is going to take some time to fix those problems,” Perea told me.
One of Perea’s bills, AB 1669, would create a ‘Nitrate At-Risk Area Fund,’ which would be used to develop and implement solutions for low-income communities that are at risk of nitrate contamination. These communities would be identified by the state Department of Public Health and the state Water Resources Control Board.
The bill would prioritize funding for areas contaminated with nitrates, and reduce the bureaucratic hurdles that prevent smaller communities from taking advantage of existing funds, Perea said. It targets an ongoing challenge to implementing drinking water solutions, Perea said: there is “always more need than there is resources,” he said.
A recent University of California, Davis study found that about 254,000 people in the southern San Joaquín Valley and Salinas Valley are at risk of nitrate contamination of their drinking water.
Another bill, AB 2238, would promote consolidation of small water systems or infrastructure extension, when these actions can help improve access to safe and affordable drinking water in disadvantaged communities.
Specifically, it would improve the ability of Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCOs) to identify and study opportunities for consolidation and service extension. It would also require the state department of health to promote consolidation, prioritize funding for projects involving consolidation of small water systems, and prioritize funding for consolidation projects that promote safe and affordable drinking water.
Instead of having small water districts serving nearby communities, “we would like to see the larger water districts take in those service areas to create greater efficiency,” Perea said. This, he said, would save taxpayer money, and would create economies of scale, so one community does not get left behind.
Both of Perea’s bills are expected to reach the Appropriations Committee in mid-May.
Other bills in the Human Right to Water package include:
- AB 685, by Assemblymember Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park,) which would establish the human right to water as a statewide policy priority;
- AB 2334, by Assemblymember Paul Fong (D-Cupertino,) which would require the Department of Water Resources to conduct an analysis of water affordability every five years;
- AB 1830, by Assemblymember V. Manuel Pérez (D-Coachella,) which would authorize the Public Utilities Commission to order restitution to mobile home park residents where it finds that the park owner charged unjust or unreasonable water rates.
Drinking water, previously on Harvesting Health: