To establish water affordability and secure the Human Right to Water for all Californians, we must develop a Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program that allows water agencies to provide California residents financial assistance when their drinking water is unaffordable. However, existing law deters local agencies from doing so, and as a result, too many Californians are paying too much for their water. As a result of AB 401 (Dodd), which CWC supported last year, the State Water Resources Control Board is now required to develop a plan for a statewide Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program.
This month, the State Water Board began hosting their first meetings to shape California's future water affordability program. The first workshops were held in Fresno, Redding, and Inglewood. Workshops in Oakland and Bakersfield are scheduled for November 7 and November 9. Community Water Center's Asha Kreiling attended the Fresno workshop, along with many local residents, and representatives from ally organizations including Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability and the Community Alliance for Agroecology.
The State Water Board provided the space to solicit input from residents and other stakeholders about how to design a statewide low-income water rate assistance program. At the first workshop in Fresno, several residents discussed the impacts of unaffordable water rate hikes and how factors such as unemployment, having disabilities, and being low-income increase challenges to paying for basic water needs. State Water Board staff explained that these types of factors would be considered in the development of the Low-Income Water Rate Assistance program.
Attendees also advocated for ending the practice of water shut-offs and instead providing financial or technical support when residents are unable to pay their water bill. CWC's Asha Kreiling commented on the challenges for residents whose water from their water provider or their private well is contaminated and unsafe to drink. She explained that many residents, particularly in the Central Valley, need to purchase alternative water supplies, such as bottled water, which further adds to their water costs.
Others in the room discussed the importance of conservation and the need for water meters and submeters for renters. Residents expressed concern over paying for expensive water bills even when they conserve water. They recommended that the State Water Board consider conservation incentives and water usage tiers in their program design.
The State Water Board will compile the comments and recommendations made during this first round of workshops and begin to design the Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program. We encourage you to attend the remaining workshops if you live near Oakland or Bakersfield. Check out the schedule for the upcoming meetings, and learn more about AB 401 here! Contact CWC’s Asha Kreiling at Asha.Kreiling@CommunityWaterCenter.org or at (916)706-3346 if you have an unaffordable water rate or want to get involved in a campaign to ensure water affordability.