Community Water Center

Community-driven water solutions through organizing, education, and advocacy

Drought Relief Package a Step Toward Water Justice


March 31, 2015

Jenny Rempel, Communications and Development Coordinator, 916-706-3346, or

Legislation Targets Resources and Creates a New Office to Focus on Community Drinking Water Needs

On March 27th, the Governor approved legislation to expedite funding for small community water needs as part of a $1 billion emergency drought relief package.

The proposal accelerates the appropriation of $135.5 million in Proposition 1 Water Bond funding for drinking water and wastewater projects in low-income communities. It also allocates an additional $17 million for emergency food aid, $4.4 million for disaster recovery support, and $24 million for emergency drinking water in small and disadvantaged communities impacted by the drought. The legislation establishes a new Office of Sustainable Water Solutions within the Division of Drinking Water at the State Water Board to promote permanent and sustainable drinking water and wastewater solutions in the most vulnerable communities in the state.

The emergency drought relief package is an important step toward ensuring all communities have access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water. We commend Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León for his leadership in targeting funds to the rural, low-income communities already living in crisis due to the drought. We appreciate Governor Brown’s and Speaker Atkins’ leadership in advancing this emergency funding several months before the budget process so that communities will be able to receive funds more quickly as the drought continues this spring and summer.

We need to ensure all drought-impacted communities are eligible for the public resources being made available through this legislation. With thousands of dry wells already across California and thousands more failed wells expected this summer, we need to ensure residents reliant on state small water systems and private wells can secure the emergency resources they need. We are pleased to see that the inclusion of an additional $5 million for the Department of Water Resources to support emergency drinking water needs includes residents on private wells. The new funding sources established by the legislation need to be well defined to focus resources on the communities most acutely impacted by the drought emergency.

We are celebrating the creation of a new Office of Sustainable Water Solutions at the State Water Resources Control Board. The office will need adequate staffing, authority and funding in order to meet its stated goal of promoting permanent and sustainable drinking water and wastewater solutions in small communities.

While this legislation is a crucial emergency response to the drought crisis, proactive efforts are needed to create more drought resilient communities. First, we currently lack statewide data about where wells are going dry. The state should fund and support accurate data collection and reporting on the number of people statewide who have experienced complete household water supply loss or are in imminent danger of doing so. Second, publicly accessible well log data is necessary for accurate groundwater modeling to determine which wells are likely to go dry or become contaminated. Third, strong implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act with collaborative, inclusive processes is needed to achieve sustainable groundwater management. Fourth, we need state policies that better protect both groundwater quantity and quality. Finally, we hope to see a more comprehensive program to address the capacity and ongoing operation and maintenance funding needs of disadvantaged communities.

Thousands of Californians -- many of whom are living in small, rural, low-income communities -- are experiencing extreme and acute impacts from the drought. In the worst cases, communities have run out of water completely. The emergency drought relief package is essential to addressing the drought crisis in California communities, but we still have much more work to develop lasting, affordable drinking water solutions so that all Californians can enjoy the human right to water. We look forward to working together toward to create lasting solutions for all communities without access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water.

Photo Credit: John Myers, KQED

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