Wieckowski bill to stop proliferation of small water systems passes Assembly committee

June 28, 2016

Sacramento – The Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee passed a bill this morning by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) aimed at preventing the proliferation of small, unsustainable public water agencies.   The districts are more prone to violating safe drinking water standards than their larger counterparts.

“Safe, clean drinking water is a right in California and if an agency cannot show it has the long-term ability and expertise to meet safety standards, it shouldn’t be created because the health risks to its customers are too great,” said Wieckowski, chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.  “By strengthening the permitting requirements, we can improve compliance and make sure more agencies are providing sustainable clean drinking water.”

California has more than 7,600 public water systems and most of them serve fewer than 200 connections.  SB 1263 gives the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) a stronger role in ensuring such systems are not approved if they are unnecessary.  The bill requires those seeking permits for new public water systems to meet several requirements, including examining the feasibility of adjacent water systems and annexing, connecting or otherwise supplying water to the service area.  It also requires a cost comparison between a new system and consolidating, annexing or connecting to an existing water system.  Applicants must also identify all proposed sources of water for the new system. 

In its 2015 “Safe Drinking Water Plan for California,” the SWRCB concluded that many small water systems lack the ability to meet safe drinking water standards.  The small public water systems have a higher percentage of violations for exceeding arsenic, nitrate and uranium levels in their water.  These failing systems force the residents to either pay the high costs for treatment or for replacement water, and substantial costs when the state ultimately steps in to cover the necessary improvements to the system.  

The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), which serves parts of Senator Wieckowski’s Senate district, supports the bill.

“EBMUD fully supports the objective of SB 1263 to prevent the proliferation of new unsustainable public water systems and believes that strengthening the permitting process for new public water systems, as SB 1263 does, is an important component in providing access to safe drinking water,” said Marlaigne Dumaine, EBMUD’s legislative affairs manager.

The Human Right to Water law, which was passed by the Legislature in 2012, says it is “the right of every human being to have safe, clean, affordable water adequate for human consumption, cooking and sanitation.”

A recent report by the Community Water Center and the Environmental Justice Coalition found that 1,600 California schools between 2003 and 2014 violated drinking water standards.  It recommended California ensure safe, robust and resilient community-wide water systems.

In addition to EBMUD and Community Water Center, SB 1263 is supported by Clean Water Action, Sierra Club California, California League of Conservation Voters, Environmental Working Group, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, National Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, Tri-Cities Ecology Center, Food and Water Watch, and Lutheran Office of Public Policy – California.

Senator Wieckowski represents the 10th District, which stretches from southern Alameda County to northeast Santa Clara County.