California Governor Jerry Brown Signs Several New Drinking Water Bills Into Law

Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed seven new drinking water bills, improving the quality of water for residents across the state and especially in rural areas. According to California Watch, Brown said in a statement, “Clean drinking water is a basic human right. The bills I have signed today will help ensure that every Californian has access to clean and safe sources of water.”

California Watch reported that Esmeralda Soria of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation said, “The legislation is extremely important because it’s a step forward in realizing that really disadvantaged communities don’t have access to clean water. They have been bathing, cooking and drinking contaminated water or buying expensive bottled water. These are small steps toward these communities having more access to funding that will in the long term give them access to cleaner water. These communities see that there’s hope in the near future of having clean water.” One of the group’s studies showed that rural Californians who didn’t have access to clean water spent between 4 and 10 percent of their household income on bottled water.

A study conducted from 2005 to 2008 by the Pacific Institute concluded that 1.3 million residents of the state’s central San Joaquin Valley did not have clean water in their taps. This water was contaminated with nitrates, which have been known to cause illness and death, especially in vulnerable populations (such as babies and children). While mainly rural areas are affected by a lack of access to clean drinking water, urban Californians face the problem as well. Santa Ana, an urban city in Orange County, reported that some of its residents were not brushing their teeth or bathing because they were afraid of getting sick from their water. Some Spanish-speaking residents in various communities ignored water contamination notices because they couldn’t read the English notices, and continued using the unclean water.  

Here is a brief description of each of the seven bills:

AB 54 will allow water companies to begin repairing facilities in need of renovation as soon as their application for state funding is received. Under previous law, water companies had to wait for funding to be received before beginning construction. This bill also requires water board members to provide information regarding their operations to local agencies, increasing transparency.

AB 938 will require water contamination alerts to be translated into another language in areas where more than 10 percent of the population primarily speaks a language other than English.

AB 983 will enable “severely disadvantaged communities” – often poverty-stricken rural areas – to obtain all of their funding for water infrastructure projects from the state. Current law only permits these areas to obtain 80 percent of funding from the state, while the remaining 20 percent comes out of residents’ pockets in the form of loans, which create a burden that is difficult to repay.

AB 1194 will revise current drinking water standards to ensure that they comply with federal standards. Under this law, the California Department of Health will interpret “human water consumption” to include cooking water. This bill also kept up to $130 million in federal funds in the state, as failure to comply with federal public health standards would have revoked this money. 

AB 1221 will grant nonprofit organizations and state-recognized tribes access to the state’s Cleanup and Abatement Account to pay for cleanup efforts. These organizations currently contribute to the fund, but do not receive money to help clear pollution.

AB 1292 will allow issuance of revenue bonds for deposit into the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, ensuring that the state’s drinking water satisfies federal requirements outline in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

SB 244 will require cities and counties to take into account the needs of unincorporated and disadvantaged areas in urban planning.

The laws will also ensure that smaller water districts adhere to state standards and provide clean drinking water for residents.

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