State Water Board proposes plan to provide relief for Californians struggling to pay water bills

A new water affordability proposal is a big step forward for guaranteeing Californians’ Human Right to Water, and residents and clean water advocates commend the State Water Board for releasing its proposed plan. While families can currently get help to pay unaffordable energy bills through a long-running federal program, no similar universal program exists for water — often forcing families to choose between paying for water or meeting other basic needs. Research shows that the inability to pay water bills has clear links to eviction and homelessness in California and across the country, underscoring the need for urgent action. The State Water Board led a series of public meetings between 2016 and 2019 to formulate a water affordability plan to address this critical need, as directed by AB 401 (Dodd, 2015). On Tuesday the board released its Recommendations for a Statewide Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program. It now offers the Legislature and the Newsom Administration a path forward to promptly develop a low-income rate assistance program, a necessary part of securing every Californian’s human right to water. “Low-income rural and urban residents have something in common: their water rates are increasing far faster than their wages or retirement income,” said Jennifer Clary, Water Program Manager for Clean Water Action. “We look forward to supporting a program that provides a lifeline to safe drinking water for Californians who face unaffordable rates.” Adriana Sanchez Ochoa, Deputy Director for NextGen Policy, remarked, “Water is a basic human right. No family should have to choose between paying their water bill or buying food for their family. We are committed to ensuring a plan that prioritizes accessibility, affordability and the safety of drinking water in California.” A state-run water affordability program will allow California to continue its commitment to economic justice and healthy communities by closing the affordability gap. “Californians should never have to make the impossible choice between paying their water bills or paying for other necessities like food and rent,” said Susana De Anda, Executive Director and Co-founder of the Community Water Center. “Unaffordable bills should not stand in the way of securing the human right to water for all Californians. We urge the Legislature and Governor Newsom to act upon this proposal swiftly.” “We work with many residents of low-income communities like Cantua Creek and El Porvenir who regularly pay more than $100 a month just for drinking water,” said Michael Claiborne with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “The state must take advantage of this opportunity to ensure that all Californians have access to affordable drinking water and wastewater services.” “Safe, sufficient and affordable water is a human right, but California’s rising cost of living makes it harder for low-income families to pay their water utility bills,” said Linda Escalante, Southern California Legislative Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This plan marks a pivotal step in ensuring the legislature and state agencies are meeting the needs of all Californians. We must prioritize funding assistance programs for disadvantaged communities and low-income households, to equitably manage our water resources.” Community members and advocates who have participated in the State Water Board’s process will review the proposal closely and provide feedback to help the board, legislators, and the governor’s office take action.

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