Governor Retains Most Funding For Water and Wastewater Investments, With No Mention of Affordability Crisis

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Governor Newsom unveiled additional funding cuts to his January Budget Proposal, as the State takes increasingly aggressive measures to address a projected shortfall. The good news is that the Governor is proposing to retain critical investments in drinking water access and flood prevention and response. The bad news is that the Governor is not proposing any funding to aid families struggling to afford drinking water.

Water affordability continues to burden communities throughout California. The Governor’s May Revise makes no mention of affordability. To truly make good on the Human Right to Water, we must address affordability challenges by funding a statewide low-income rate assistance program and allocate a second round of funding for the California Water and Wastewater Arrearage Payment Program. 

“Low-income Californians are facing a financial cliff as pandemic protections expire,” said Jennifer Clary, California Director of Clean Water Action. “Water debt is well above pre-pandemic levels. Unfortunately, the governor’s budget makes no mention of water affordability or low-income, even though it is a key part of his 2022 Water Supply Strategy.”

Additionally, the Governor’s revised budget proposes codifying the recent Executive Order N-4-23 which allows unsupervised flooding of agricultural lands for groundwater recharge. Advocates agree with the urgent need to protect communities from flooding and that groundwater recharge is critical to groundwater sustainability, but the Governor’s proposal could put communities and households at risk of exposure to pollution.

“Swapping a groundwater supply problem for a groundwater pollution problem does not improve access to safe and affordable drinking water,” said Michael Claiborne, Directing Attorney at Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “The Executive Order has some good water quality protections, but allows dischargers to divert and recharge first and ask for permission later. This process must be strengthened if it is to be codified.”

California is facing flood and drought emergencies simultaneously. Wells continue to go dry, with more than 1,600 domestic wells that have already failed. At the same time, residents of Planada and Allensworth were evacuated from their homes this year due to flooding and are still struggling to recover. Planada alone is still waiting for assistance for January flood damage, needing at least $20 million to rebuild. Given the climate reality California is facing, we call on the Legislature to find ways to make flexible emergency funding available so that we can appropriately respond to floods while addressing the well backlog at the same time.

“Despite current budget conditions, California cannot afford to ignore communities suffering from both drought AND flood-related impacts” said Kyle Jones, Policy and Legal Director of Community Water Center. “Even when the severity of drought lessens, the impacts on the ground remain for years. Families whose wells have run dry are forced to wait multiple years for a new well, while relying on short-term fixes like bottled water and emergency tanks. This is not ok. California must prioritize resources and policy solutions to address the well drilling backlog before the next drought hits.”

Every Californian has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water. The May Revise takes steps toward this reality, and we look forward to continuing working with the Governor and Legislature to prioritize this right in the 2023-24 budget.

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Clean Water Action is a national nonprofit founded in 1972 to promote citizen engagement and action to protect our environment, health, economic well-being and community quality of life. Clean Water Action organizes strong grassroots groups, coalitions and campaigns to solve environmental and community problems. For more information, visit our website at www.cleanwater.org or follow us on Twitter @cleanh2oca.

Community Water Center (CWC) works to ensure that all communities have reliable access to safe, clean, and affordable water. Founded in 2006, CWC is a not-for-profit environmental justice organization, whose mission is to act as a catalyst for community-driven water solutions through education, organizing, and advocacy. Web: www.communitywatercenter.org Twitter: @CWaterC Facebook: @CommunityWaterCenterLeadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability works alongside the most impacted communities to advocate for sound policy and eradicate injustice to secure equal access to opportunity regardless of wealth, race, income and place. We work with community leaders throughout the San Joaquin Valley and Eastern Coachella Valley on such issues as safe affordable drinking water, basic transit services, wastewater services, decent affordable housing, and the right to live free from industrial pollution with infrastructure that supports healthy lifestyles. Through co-powerment, organizing, litigation, policy advocacy, and research, we confront California’s stark inequalities manifest in too many of California’s low income communities and communities of color. Twitter: LCJandA FB: @lcjacalifornia IG: @leadership_counsel Web: leadershipcounsel.org

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