Senate sends Wieckowski safe drinking water bill to Governor Brown

SB 1263 limits the creation of unsustainable small water agencies

August 29, 2016

Sacramento – Senator Bob Wieckowski’s (D-Fremont) bill to limit the proliferation of small, unsustainable public water agencies that are more likely to violate drinking water safety standards, passed the Senate today and now goes before Governor Jerry Brown for his consideration.  Senate Bill 1263 will improve the long-term delivery of safe drinking water to many disadvantaged communities.

“Our state has declared that Californians have a human right to reliable, safe drinking water, yet we have small public water districts that simply don’t have the economies of scale and staff to reliably deliver safe drinking water over time,” said Wieckowski, the chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.  “This bill targets the small districts where most of the water quality violations occur to increase state oversight and better protect the public health.  Rather than increase the number of small unsustainable districts, this bill encourages annexations and consolidations with larger agencies that have the resources to ensure safe delivery.”

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. 

“Senator Wieckowski’s bill will provide the increased oversight that is needed to prevent the continued growth of unsustainable small water agencies in California,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California.  “Too many of these agencies simply don’t have the ability to consistently provide safe water.”

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.”

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 and Sierra Club California, SB 1263 is supported by 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.