Californians know how to face down disaster – together. From earthquakes to floods to community-scorching fires, lifting each other up in the face of crisis defines us as Californians.
Gov. Gavin Newsom made the disaster of toxic water a priority when he took office a few weeks ago.
“It’s a disgrace that in a state as wealthy and resourceful as ours that a million-plus people don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water,” said the governor.
We agree, as it’s nothing less than a state disaster when turning on the tap means risking cancer, birth defects, heart disease, diabetes and infant mortality. Since 2012, California law has declared a moral principle with which few could disagree: “Every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water.”
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Yet little progress has been made to fix water supplies contaminated with nitrates, arsenic and other harmful elements that have threatened the public health of communities throughout our state for decades.
The awareness of this fundamental public health and human rights issue is finally growing in our communities. Neighborhoods in Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego are conscious of the danger posed by lead pipes in their schools. Rural communities, like those of the Eastern Coachella and Salinas valleys, are awake to the acute water infrastructure disparities plaguing their underserved residents.
With Gov. Newsom’s leadership, and a broad coalition assembled to tackle this problem head-on, we are committed to making 2019 the year California finally delivers on the promise of safe, affordable drinking water to all of its residents.
The start-up funds dedicated in the governor’s budget, along with the ongoing funding proposed in companion legislation, is both reasonable and necessary. It amounts to less than the cost of a bottle of water per user – a dollar a month, with exemptions for low-income Californians.
Additionally, the funds dedicated to this purpose cannot be diverted for other uses. This ensures that communities of color and low-income neighborhoods will not be put at risk of losing their clean water funding with the boom and bust cycle of the state budget
In his first weeks in office, the new governor could pick no bigger issue to tackle than the stark inequality in access to safe drinking water in disadvantaged communities. It’s a problem that can be fixed when we all work collectively for the good of our state.
“We’re in this together.” That’s a promise the governor made to families whose budgets strain to pay for both the tap water they are rightly afraid to drink and the expensive bottled water they need to stay healthy.
It’s this promise that we call on our colleagues in both houses of the Legislature – and in both political parties – to keep. Let’s come together and all support a “safe and affordable drinking water fund.”