President’s Message—Water Tax is a Bad Solution

Safe water flows reliably to the majority of homes, schools and businesses day in and day out in California. But residents who live in rural, low-income communities, face a different daily reality and may not have access to safe drinking water.

We recognize the severity of the problem and support the implementation of effective solutions, including sensible funding solutions, to bring clean, safe drinking water to all communities throughout the state.

In Orange County, we are committed to providing reliable, safe drinking water to more than 2.4 million people in the Orange County Water District’s (OCWD; the District) service area. Through our rigorous monitoring and testing programs and our world-renowned projects such as the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) we are doing our part to support this statewide effort. We are also doing our part to plan for the future and invest in infrastructure like the GWRS to offset costly and unreliable imported water, which keeps our water rates as low as possible and ensures our water supply is safe.

This goes far beyond the local level, though. This is a problem that stretches across the map and is ultimately a public health and social issue that takes focused leadership on the state level, with local water agencies doing their part to assist the effort and make solutions a reality.

Recently, there was a legislative effort underway in Sacramento, SB 623 by Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), which sought to address safe drinking water for disadvantaged communities. As a local, public water agency committed to safe and reliable water, we absolutely supported the intent of the bill.

However, in the last weeks of the legislative session, the author inserted language in the bill that imposed a statewide tax on residential and business water bills. Monning called the bill the “Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fee.” Make no mistake. This was not a fee. It was a tax.

To help ensure that all Californians have access to safe drinking water, which is the intent of SB 623, is laudable.  However, achieving this goal by taxing water is not the right approach.  In passing the Human Right to Water Act in 2012, the California legislature established that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.”  Levying a tax on a basic human right is contrary to this policy. 

Taxing Californians for something that is essential to life does not make sense, especially at a time when some are raising concerns about the affordability of water. Furthermore, to impose a statewide tax on Californians’ water bills would turn local water agencies into taxation entities that send money to Sacramento. Adding a statewide tax to local water bills is just not sound policy. 

OCWD respectfully opposes any tax on water, and instead urged the Legislature to pursue a more appropriate funding mechanism to help ensure access to clean drinking water.

I am happy to tell you that the bill failed…this time.  It is expected to come up again for consideration next year. We will remain constant in our opposition and will keep you apprised as this bill and others like it come to our attention.