President’s Message—OCWD Opposes Water Tax Legislation
Reliable, safe drinking water is delivered to the 2.5 million people who live and work in the Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District). However, residents in rural, low-income communities elsewhere in the state like the Central Valley may not have access to quality drinking water. Theirs is a legitimate problem of neglected infrastructure and means of water delivery, and contaminated supplies of water, all of which weren’t deemed priorities.
Last year, I wrote about this public health issue and a well-intentioned but misplaced funding bill that the District and other water agencies throughout California opposed. It failed, but has come up again for consideration, this time with a budget trailer bill.
Senate Bill 623 by Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) wasn’t and isn’t the answer. Sen. Monning’s “Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fee” is a tax on a basic human right to quality, affordable and accessible water for human consumption, cooking and sanitary purposes. OCWD supports the intent of the bill to address and ensure safe drinking water for disadvantaged communities, but we respectfully continue to oppose any tax that makes water less affordable for the masses and affects Californians who would not benefit from the tax, but would be forced to pay it. We urged the Legislature to pursue a more appropriate funding mechanism.
Instead, they have brought back SB 623 and a budget trailer bill released by the Brown Administration on Feb. 1. Under these proposals, about a dollar per month state drinking water tax would be added to most local residential and business water bills (with large-consumption commercial and industrial water users paying up to $10 per month on a sliding scale). The tax money would be sent to Sacramento. Currently the Legislature’s focus is on the budget trailer bill. If the Administration is not successful with the budget trailer bill, Sen. Willliam Monning is expected to try to move SB 623. California would be the first in the nation to tax water.
As a local water agency, we are committed to providing safe and reliable water. We wholeheartedly support the humanitarian goal of ensuring safe drinking water for all Californians, especially those in disadvantaged communities. We believe we have found a solution that doesn’t include taxing water.
OCWD has joined with the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) to develop a package of funding comprised of ongoing federal safe drinking water funds, voter-approved general obligation bond dollars, agricultural fees related to nitrate in drinking water, and general fund dollars that we feel is a better alternative.
The District also supports an alternative solution provided in AB 2050—The Small System Water Authority Act of 2018 that offers sustainable governance reforms necessary to address small water systems that chronically fail to provide safe and reliable drinking water. This bill seeks to establish a new category of public water agency by way of merging formerly non-compliant drinking water systems in order to sustainably provide technical, managerial and financial capabilities to ensure the delivery of safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water.
We encourage you to learn more about this critical issue and contact your state representative to let them know your opposition to the tax and that there are other options available to fund more access to clean drinking water. If you would like additional information, please visit ACWA’s website at: https://www.acwa.com/no-water-tax, ACWA is a statewide association of public agencies whose more than 440 members are responsible for about 90 percent of the water delivered in California.
Denis R. Bilodeau, P.E.