California laws aimed at clean water improvements

California Gov. Jerry Brown signs in new laws aimed at improved access to clean drinking water in California, particularly for residents in rural and disadvantaged communities.

From the Huffington Post, Brown says, “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.”

According to clean-water advocates, the legislation addresses a longstanding need. A study [PDF] by the Pacific Institute found that between 2005 and 2008, 1.3 million residents in the San Joaquin Valley had nitrate-polluted water coming from their faucets.

The bills range from translating water contamination notices to removing logistical barriers to funding water infrastructure improvements.

The bills signed into law are:

  • AB 54: Allows water agencies to begin construction on ailing systems as soon as an application for state funding is accepted, rather than waiting several months or more for the money to be received. The legislation also would create new assistance and increase transparency of small, community-run mutual water agencies by providing training to board members. It also would require them to provide basic information to regional agencies about their operations.
  • AB 938: Requires drinking water alerts to be translated when 10 percent or more of water district customers speak a second language.
  • AB 983: Makes it possible for “severely disadvantaged communities” to obtain 100 percent grant funding for water infrastructure improvement projects. Currently, these communities can qualify only for up to 80 percent in grants and must take out the remaining 20 percent in loans that residents may have difficulty repaying.
  • AB 1221: Allows state-recognized tribes and nonprofit organizations (such as mutual water agencies) access to the state’s Cleanup and Abatement Account to pay for pollution mediation. Although these organizations pay into the account in the form of pollution fines, they do not currently qualify for cleanup money.
  • SB 244: Requires cities and counties to consider the infrastructure needs – including clean drinking water access – of disadvantaged and unincorporated communities in urban planning efforts, including general plan updates.
  • AB 1194: Makes adjustments to and clarifies drinking water laws to ensure that state public health laws conform with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. For example, the California Department of Public Health now will interpret laws involving human consumption of water to include cooking and food preparation. Failure to comply with national drinking water statutes could have resulted in a loss of about130 million in federal funds.
  • AB 1292: Authorizes the issuance of revenue bonds, which will be deposited into the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund so the state can satisfy federal matching requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

In combination, the package of legislation will be a boon to public health, advocates and legislators say.

The legislation primarily will involve changes to the way the California Department of Public Health and the State Water Resources Control Board do business. Both agencies acknowledge that the new laws will improve water quality and wastewater treatment throughout the state, “especially in the case of those from economically disadvantaged areas,” Kathie Smith, spokeswoman for the state water board, wrote in an e-mail.

Matt Conens, spokesman for the state public health department, wrote in an e-mail that the legislation signed by Brown “will help ensure that every Californian has access to clean and safe sources of water. Protecting the water we drink is an absolutely crucial duty of state government.”


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