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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on August 30th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 26 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 26

Groups battle over state water safety bill

By SPENCER COLE

Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) announced on Aug. 23 the amended version of Senate Bill 623, which would establish the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to finance infrastructure improvement projects across the state with the help of a coalition of environmental activists, agricultural industry representatives, and labor groups.

The bill will need to garner a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate and Assembly to pass, which at the present could prove difficult due to its widespread opposition among state water agencies.

Proponents say the legislation was drafted in response to the some 300 water systems in California dealing with pollutant violations, such as arsenic, lead, nitrates, and uranium that have been linked to nausea and vomiting, cancer, reduced mental functioning in children, nervous system decline, miscarriages, and numerous other health issues.

“In Flint, Michigan, 100,000 people were exposed to unsafe drinking water, but right here in California more than 1 million Californians are annually exposed to unsafe drinking water,” Monning said in a statement. “Having access to clean drinking water is a basic human right that should be guaranteed to every person in California, and it is time that we act on this issue. SB 623 represents a historic achievement that will establish a fund to finance projects to ensure clean drinking water for all.”

The needed dollars would be acquired through a fertilizer mill fee, a fee on dairies, and a “fee assessed on water bills of no more than $1 a month per household, and is anticipated to generate $140 million a year,” according to a press release from Monning’s office.

The release said low-income rate exemptions would be provided for households under 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Western Growers, which represents local and regional family farmers in the Southwest, sent out a press release following Monning’s announcement in support of the bill.

“Even though agricultural practices of today significantly reduce or eliminate the potential for nitrates to reach the groundwater, farmers and researchers are continuing to seek opportunities to improve management practices,” the release said. “Due to the challenges of reconciling nitrogen use by agriculture with human health and water resource protection, we have been working with the environmental justice community, as well as other stakeholders, for over a year in an effort to address the critical needs in disadvantaged communities relating to safe drinking water. ... SB 623 strikes the needed balance between providing the necessary resources for addressing critical drinking water needs, while protecting agriculture from certain nitrate related enforcement actions in the short-term.”

The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) opposes the bill in its current form. The association sent a letter on Aug. 24 with 112 agencies backing the position.

In the letter, the association agreed with the intent of the bill and noted that a lack of safe drinking water in disadvantaged communities was a public health issue that needed to be addressed. However, ACWA took issue with the types of funding Monning proposed.

“State law sets forth a policy of a human right to water for human consumption that is safe, clean, affordable, and accessible,” the letter says. “It is not sound policy to tax something that is a human right.”




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