California boasts the world’s fifth-largest economy.
Yet we have yet to solve the water pollution problem that plagues hundreds of communities across the state.
Right now, more than a million Californians lack access to safe water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and laundry.
This may seem unfathomable to those that take clean tap water for granted, but California has become a state divided between those who have safe drinking water and those who do not.
The reasons why are straightforward. Over the last few decades, California leaders have adopted a series of new drinking water standards designed to protect public health, based on the latest science.
Larger communities – such as those that California Water Service (Cal Water) serves in East Los Angeles, Carson, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and Thousand Oaks – have large enough customer bases to cover the costs of complying with all of the state and federal safe drinking water standards.
Many smaller water suppliers, however, simply do not have the resources to keep up.
Right here in Los Angeles County there are several small community water systems that can’t afford the costly upgrades needed to meet important state and federal water quality standards. There are communities living with the legacy of decades-old pesticide pollution, and the water coming out of their taps is contaminated with unsafe levels of a chemical called 123 TCP.
The drinking water of more than 500,000 residents of L.A. County comes from unregulated, privately-owned domestic wells, many of which may be pumping from polluted aquifers. And dozens of schools have tested high for lead.
Residents of smaller disadvantaged communities face a terrible choice: spend their hard-earned dollars on bottled water, or go on risking their health by drinking and cooking with tap water that fails current safety standards. For these communities, the cost of constructing new treatment systems is simply beyond their means.
While this is undoubtedly a public health crisis, there has been a lack of public funding to address it.
The state’s General Fund – highly volatile and subject to changing political priorities – cannot provide the 20-to-30-year certainty in operational funds that small communities need to secure long-term grant and loan funding.
That is why we have joined a bipartisan coalition of public health, business, labor, environmental, environmental justice, and agricultural groups to support the creation of the Governor’s proposed Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund.
Funded through a small fee for agricultural users and a separate fee of less than $1 per month for most water users, with an exemption for low-income residents, the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund will provide a permanent pot of money to help all communities across California provide safe drinking water.
It also will provide the first-ever funding specifically for in-building lead pipe replacement.
It is long past time for every Californian to have access to safe, reliable, and affordable drinking water.
As one of California’s largest water utilities, we believe we must all accept responsibility to address the current divide between those who have safe drinking water and those that do not.
The creation of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund is an important step toward achieving that goal.
Justin Skarb is director of community affairs and government relations for California Water Service (Cal Water), the largest water utility regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission.
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