Assembly approves Wieckowski's clean drinking water bill

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

August 25, 2016

Sacramento – The California State Assembly today approved a bill by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) to improve the delivery of safe, reliable drinking water in California by limiting the proliferation of small, unsustainable public water agencies.  Senate Bill 1263 now heads back to the Senate for a concurrence vote before going to the Governor.

“Californians have a human right to reliable, safe drinking water and this bill will prevent the creation of small water agencies who cannot meet our standards over the long term,” said Wieckowski, the chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.  “Many smaller agencies, especially in disadvantaged communities, simply don’t have the staff, money and expertise to consistently provide safe water to their customers.”

Most of the more than 7,600 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. 

“By ensuring that water agencies have the necessary resources and technical skills to sustainably manage drinking water supplies, Senator Wieckowski’s bill will improve the long-term safety and reliability of drinking water in disadvantaged communities across California,” said Victoria Rome, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s California legislative director.

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 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 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.

In addition to the Community Water Center, SB 1263 is supported by Clean Water Action, Sierra Club California, 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.