Governor signs Wieckowski's bill to protect California drinking water

SB 1263 limits the proliferation of small public water systems that are more likely to violate safety standards

September 29, 2016

Sacramento – Governor Jerry Brown today signed a bill by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) to protect the quality of California drinking water by limiting the proliferation of small, unsustainable public water systems that are more likely to violate drinking water safety standards.  The bill, SB 1263, is supported by a number of statewide environmental organizations.

“Californians have a human right to reliable, safe drinking water and by signing SB 1263 Governor Brown is making sure public water systems are prepared to meet quality safety standards over the long term,” said Wieckowski, chair of the Senate’s Environmental Quality Committee.  “Too many of the more than 7,600 water systems in California lack the expertise and financial resources to effectively and safely provide service to their customers.  This bill increases state oversight and will prevent these districts from forming in the first place if a larger, neighboring system can better provide the service.”    

 Most of the public water systems in California 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.  It requires those seeking permits for new public water systems to meet several requirements, including examining the feasibility of connecting to adjacent water systems.  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. 

The California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) supported the bill as it moved through the Legislature.

“We are pleased the Governor signed Senator Wieckowski’s safe drinking water bill,” CLCV CEO Sarah Rose said.  “Water is a human right in California and by stopping the proliferation of these unsustainable water systems,  especially in disadvantaged communities, we can better protect the public health and ensure that water quality standards are being met throughout the state. “

A 2015 SWRCB drinking water study found that small districts accounted for 68 percent of violations for arsenic in the water and 87.5 percent for nitrate violations. 

The SWRCB report concluded that many small water systems lack the ability to meet safe drinking water standards.  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 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.”

Another report, released earlier this year, 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.

SB 1263 is supported by the Community Water Center, Clean Water Action, California League of Conservation Voters, Environmental Working Group, Environment California, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, East Bay Municipal Utilities District, 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.