Drinking Water Tax Abandoned
A proposed tax on California’s drinking water, designed to clean up contaminated water for thousands of Californians, was abandoned by Governor Jerry Brown and the Legislature in June. This groundbreaking legislation, if passed, would have made California the first state in the nation to tax water. Many opponents felt it was a tax on a basic human right to quality, affordable and accessible water for human consumption, cooking and sanitary purposes.
In lieu of the “Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act,” spending $23.5 million in general fund dollars has been proposed for testing and emergency relief on contaminated wells and septic systems. The General Fund funding will add to new funding that became available when California voters last week approved Proposition 68 with $250 million in general obligation bonds for safe drinking water prioritized for disadvantaged communities. In November, voters will have the opportunity to pass another water bond, which would authorize $500 million in general obligation bonds for safe drinking water prioritized for disadvantaged communities.
The tax would have raised an estimated $140 million a year to address small water systems that chronically fail to provide safe and reliable drinking water and which are located primarily in disadvantaged communities.
About 360,000 Californians are served by water systems that violate state standards for nitrates, arsenic, uranium and other pollutants, according to a recent McClatchy investigation. The issue is concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley, although at least one supplier in 38 of the state’s 58 counties is out of compliance.
Another component to solving this problem is making it easier for small water systems that are unable to provide safe drinking water to consolidate with systems that are capable of doing so. That is why the statewide Association of California Water Agencies supports AB 2050 (Caballero, D-Salinas), which would enact a governance tool regarding small system water authorities and help reduce the number of noncompliant systems.