News Feature | February 17, 2017

California Advocates Push For Contaminated Water Fund

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Public interest advocates are pushing California lawmakers to establish a safe drinking water fund to fight chronic water contamination problems.

Arsenic, nitrates, and disinfection byproducts plague water systems in certain parts of the state.

“The eight-county San Joaquin Valley has some of the most contaminated aquifers in the nation: 92 drinking water systems in the San Joaquin Valley had a well with nitrate levels above the legal limit from 2005 to 2008, potentially affecting the water quality of approximately 1.3 million residents,” according to an analysis by the Pacific Institute, a water think tank.

Advocates from the Community Water Center are looking for policy solutions to this problem. The California-based group is dedicated to “safe, clean, and affordable water.”

Laurel Firestone, co-director of the group, noted that 300 communities and schools around the state are not meeting drinking water standards, according to The Fresno Bee.

“We are calling on state leaders to create a safe and affordable drinking water fund to ensure all communities have access to safe drinking water,” Firestone said, per the report. “A reliable funding source is the biggest barrier to helping communities … get a reliable supply of water.”

Community Water Center teamed up with other advocacy groups to lobby state lawmakers about their funding proposal. Advocates say their proposal has a model in telecommunications policy: the Lifeline program, funded by a fee on phone bills, provides discounted telephone service.

“A program like that would be appropriate,” said Jennifer Clary, water programs manager for Clean Water Action.

Another idea is “to impose a fee on nitrates, commonly found in fertilizers, to fund clean, affordable water. Nitrates can lead to cancer when ingested in large amounts over many years,” Capital Public Radio reported.

Advocates say they have public support for their ideas. Firestone noted new polling that “found there is majority support from residents and legislators to permanently fund fixing these water systems, but often times funding gets cut,” Central Coast Public Radio reported.

Part of the challenge posed by these proposals is deciding who will incur the cost of clean water funding: water ratepayers or agriculture or taxpayers.

“The advocacy groups did not specifically mention agriculture at [their] news conference,” the Bee reported.

But Jenny Rempel, a Community Water Center director, said: “We know we can’t solve the nitrate problem without agriculture being part of the solution.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.