Opinion

More work needed on state’s drinking water crisis

A sign urging protections for drinking water in Yosemite National Park. (Photo: Earl D. Walker, via Shutterstock)

California has a drinking water crisis. More than 1 million people in California lack access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water.  Four hundred schools in our state have lead contamination in their drinking water. About 300 public water systems in our state are not in compliance with drinking water standards. This is a public health and environmental crisis.

In late July, Governor Newsom signed a law that will establish the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. Starting next year and for the next ten years, this fund will provide $130 million in funding for cleaning up drinking water systems, including many rural areas that lack funding for ongoing operations and maintenance.

We need more money overall invested in the inland areas and underserved communities in our state – not a false choice between clean water or clean air.

I appreciate the leadership of our Governor and legislature on this issue. They’ve walked the walk when it comes to clean water and pushed for policy solutions that will protect our most vulnerable residents. But the work is not done.

For the next ten years, the money will come out of California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which is intended to support programs and projects that tackle our climate crisis through combatting carbon emissions. What that means is the state is taking money away from pollution reduction in low-income communities and putting it toward structural water contamination clean up in those same communities.

We all know that our climate crisis is costing us lives and livelihoods now, not in the future. We need more money overall invested in the inland areas and underserved communities in our state – not a false choice between clean water or clean air. With a state budget exceeding $200 billion, we can, and must, provide both.

How do we make this happen? We include corporations, industries, and agencies responsible for polluting water sources as part of the solution.

The agriculture and dairy industries are a prime example — they’ve long been contaminating our water supplies with pesticides and fertilizers that are hazardous to human health, such as nitrate, hexavalent chromium, and other contaminants. These toxic chemicals prevent residents from doing the most basic of human activities, like being able to drink or bathe in their water. It’s an assault on their health, their quality of life, and their dignity — and it’s happening in our state.

But here’s the thing: some of these companies are willing to step up and pay to fix the problem they’ve created.

With uber-supermajorities in both chambers, we need bold solutions that include industry and don’t take money away from other important needs.

It’s time for our state to hold a hard line on corporate polluters’ role in this issue through stopping groundwater contamination, enforcing clean up rules, and getting their investment to fix the problems of the past. This needs to happen now — polluters have gone long enough without paying for the problems they’ve caused.

Our lawmakers have proven they want to do the right thing, but the right thing must include adding new money to solve the problem — not taking money from elsewhere. With just 11 years left to act on climate change, it’s critical that our leaders get bold. We can’t waste time making trade-offs or taking baby steps when millions of people’s lives are on the line today and in the future.

This moment calls for so much more — and our legislators are capable of more. With uber-supermajorities in both chambers, we need bold solutions that include industry and don’t take money away from other important needs. We need courageous leadership. Gov. Newsom, our Senate president and speaker of the Assembly can show us they’re not done, and that they’re committed to finding solutions.

That means working until corporations are cleaning up the mess they’ve made of our drinking water and every Californian has access to clean, safe drinking water.

That means working until the job is done.

Editor’s Note: Mary Creasman is the CEO the California League of Conservation Voters.


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