Community Water Center joined with Pacific Institute, Clean Water Action, and other organizations to submit a comment letter on the implementation of AB 401, legislation passed in 2015 that directs the State Water Resources Control Board to propose a plan for a statewide low-income rate assistance (LIRA) program for water. Water is becoming increasingly unaffordable as water rates rise, costs for other basic necessities rise, and incomes stagnate, as documented in a recent Circle of Blue article.
This fall, the State Water Resources Control Board will work on the plan to propose to the legislature by February 1, 2018. Community Water Center will continue to stay involved in the process as environmental justice stakeholders and will work to ensure that the needs of small rural communities are part of the conversation.
Over one million Californians are exposed to unsafe drinking water each year. Children are particularly at risk, because as many as 1 in 4 schools in the Central Valley have been impacted by unsafe drinking water. In multiple California cities, one fifth of the population is paying over 5% of their income on water, and some families we've worked with pay up to 10% of their monthly income on water. California needs to create a safe and affordable drinking water fund to deliver on its promise of the human right to water.
Community Water Center, impacted residents, and our allies aim to secure a statewide, sustainable safe and affordable drinking water fund, which would include funding for operation and maintenance costs in low-income communities struggling to secure safe water.
Ensure existing drinking water funds are reaching low-income San Joaquin Valley communities effectively and without delay, and state officials are continuing to better define unmet needs.
Safe Water In Schools: State agencies do not currently have access to sufficient information to assess the magnitude of the problem and ensure that children have safe drinking water at school. As many as 1,048,222 students attended schools impacted by water systems that did not meet primary safe drinking water standards during the period from 2003-2014. Multiple-year violations were found in up to nine percent of schools, with some schools impacted for a decade or more. While the problem exists statewide, the Central Valley had both the greatest number and highest percentage of schools impacted by unsafe drinking water.
To take action:
The State Water Board seeks public input on a Water Affordability Program for California
Visalia, CA – The State Water Resources Control Board will be in Bakersfield this Wednesday, November 9, at the Junior League Community Center to gather public input on a proposed statewide water affordability program. The meeting, one of five held around the state this fall, is the first step toward shaping a program that will ensure all Californians have affordable drinking water.
Although Californians are legally guaranteed the human right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water, many communities in California face exceedingly high water rates. A study by the Community Water Center and its partners found that thousands of households in the San Joaquin Valley had unaffordable water rates. Some families were paying up to 10 percent of their monthly income on water alone.
As a result of Assembly Bill 401 (Dodd), which passed last year, the State Water Board is now required to develop a plan for a Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program. The Board has begun its scoping by holding a series of public meetings to seek recommendations.
"Our farmworkers are the backbone of California's agriculture and economy, yet so many families face challenges paying for water, and in many communities, the water is not even safe to drink," said Janaki Jagannath, Coordinator of the Delano-based Community Alliance for Agroecology.
At the first workshop in Fresno, several residents commented on how factors such as unemployment, disability, and limited income increase the difficulty of paying for water to meet one’s basic needs.
In the Central Valley, treatment of groundwater contaminated by agricultural practices and other pollution sources can cause water bills to become very expensive for low-income residents. In communities that have been unable to afford water treatment, residents often purchase bottled water, further adding to their drinking water costs.
State Water Board staff have encouraged widespread public participation in the meetings. Advocacy groups are working to ensure the low-income residents most impacted by water affordability challenges are able to attend the meetings.
"The State Water Board needs to hear from all stakeholders, but especially from the low-income residents most impacted by unaffordable water rates,” said Asha Kreiling, Policy and Communications Analyst at the Community Water Center. “We are encouraging Valley residents to participate in the process to ensure that paying for drinking water is no longer a burden."
The State Water Board is required to submit a water affordability plan to the California Legislature by February 2018. Until then, the agency will continue to solicit input from residents and other stakeholders on how best to provide assistance to low-income residents.
About The Community Water Center
The Community Water Center (CWC) is a non-profit environmental justice organization based in California’s San Joaquin Valley, whose mission is to act as a catalyst for community-driven water solutions through organizing, education, and advocacy. CWC’s fundamental goal is to ensure that all communities have access to safe, clean, and affordable water. CWC helps build strategic grassroots capacity to address water challenges in small, rural, low-income communities and communities of color. For more information, visit CWC’s website at www.communitywatercenter.org and follow us on Twitter at @CWaterC.
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.
Although Californians are legally guaranteed the human right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water, many communities in California face exceedingly high water rates. A study by CWC and our partners, “Assessing Water Affordability,” found that 18% of water systems in the Tulare Lake Basin had unaffordable rates. Some families were paying up to 10 percent of their monthly income on water alone.
As a result of AB 401 (Dodd), which CWC supported last year, the State Water Board is now required to develop a plan for a Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program. The Board is beginning its plan scoping by holding a series of public meetings to seek recommendations. The first meeting to shape California’s future water affordability program will be in Fresno on Wednesday, October 12th, at 6pm. There will also be meetings in Redding, Inglewood, Oakland, and Bakersfield. We strongly encourage you to attend one of these meetings if you have an unaffordable water rate or work with communities that have unaffordable water rates. 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.
In addition to the acute health risks associated with the Central Valley’s water contamination, communities face the disproportionate economic burden that stems from a lack of basic urban water infrastructure. Residents are often forced to pay twice for water, having to purchase bottled water to supplement the unsafe tap water delivered to their homes. These drinking water costs alone can amount to as much as 10% of a household’s income (Pacific Institute, The Human Costs of Nitrate-Contaminated Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley, 2011).
As a result, the most impoverished residents of these communities at times must choose between buying bottled water or risking exposure to contaminated water so they can afford other necessities such as food and medicine. In disadvantaged communities where residents have been successful in installing modern water treatment and storage facilities, families struggle with the exorbitant water bills that accompany their infrastructure improvements. Consequently, some Central Valley communities have been forced to shut down their new water systems due to their inability to pay for operation and maintenance.