SB403 would authorize CA State Water Board to consolidate water systems at risk of failure

Current law does not allow the State Water Board to act proactively to prevent water systems from failing.

The following letter was submitted to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on March 8, 2021 in support of SB403. A hearing was held on March 15, 2021. The committee voted 5-1 to advance the bill.

We write in support of SB 403, which would provide the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Water Board”) a critical tool to proactively prevent drinking water contamination and water system failure in disadvantaged communities.

The undersigned organizations strongly believe that the state must continue to act to ensure that the human right to water, codified by AB 685 (2012), is realized by all Californians. California has made progress on access to drinking water in recent years. SB 88 (2015) granted the State Water Board authority to mandate water system consolidation when a water system consistently fails to provide an adequate supply of safe drinking water.

AB 508 (2019) refined this consolidation authority as it applies to domestic wells, and set a deadline of July 1, 2020 for the Board to establish a petition process for residents of disadvantaged communities to request mandatory consolidation. SB 200 (2019) provided a continuous appropriation of $130 million per year to fund drinking water solutions including consolidation.

However, despite this progress, hundreds of thousands of Californians still lack access to safe and affordable tap water. Their water is tainted with arsenic, nitrate, uranium, 1,2,3 TCP, and other dangerous contaminants. More must be done.

SB 403 builds on SB 88 (2015) by authorizing the State Water Board to mandate consolidation where a water system is at risk of failure. Current law does not allow the State Water Board to act proactively to prevent water systems from failing. The bill would allow the State Water Board to act to prevent public health emergencies and inefficient emergency use of public resources.

By extending the State Water Board’s authority to mandate and facilitate consolidation of at risk systems serving disadvantaged communities, the bill would improve water system sustainability, drinking water quality, and affordability. Water system consolidation is an important and effective tool to improve access to safe and affordable water because larger consolidated systems are generally more reliable, safe, and efficient. Small water systems are far more likely to have water quality violations and higher water rates than larger systems.

SB 403 would ensure that the State Water Board seeks and considers community input before ordering consolidation. The bill requires the Board to conduct outreach to the ratepayers and residents served by the at risk water system and consider input received. It also requires the State Water Board to consider any petition for mandatory consolidation submitted by members of the disadvantaged community served by the at risk water system.

For these reasons, these undersigned organizations support SB 403.

Micheal K. Claiborne, Directing Attorney with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability

Jennifer Clary, California Director with Clean Water Action

Jonathan Nelson, Policy Director with Community Water Center

Barbara Sattler, Board Member of The Alliance of Nurses for Health Environments

Lisa Hunt, PhD, PE, Director of California River Restoration Science at American Rivers

Sean Bothwell, Executive Director of California Coastkeeper Alliance

Melissa Romero, Legislative Affairs Manager for California League of Conservation Voters

Tori Estrada, Executive Director and Director of Policy for the Carbon Cycle Institute

Cindy Clark, Manager of California Policy for Ceres

Nathaniel Kane, Executive Director of Environmental Law Foundation

Bill Allayaud, California Director of Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group

Jim Lindburg, Legislative Consultant with Friends Committee on Legislation of California

Karen L. Bohlke, Ed.D., Director of Government and External Relations at the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center

Corinne Belle, Program Attorney for Water at the Natural Resources Defense Council

Sergio Carranza, Executive Director of Pueblo Unido CDC

Robert M. Gould, MD, President of San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility

Brandon Dawson, Policy Advocate for Sierra Club California

Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty

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