Human Right to Water Bills Pass Key Assembly Committees

Grassroots Advocates Created Momentum in Packed Hearings

by Dan Bacher

Tuesday, April 26 was a great day for the future of safe drinking water in California, where many rural and urban communities lack drinkable water.

Safe water advocates from across the state hailed the passage of AB685, the Human Right to Water bill, by an overwhelming margin in the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and the passage of four additional bills in the Human Right to Water bill package – AB938, AB 983, AB1187 and AB1221 – in the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee.

Representatives of impacted California communities who testified at the bill hearings include Mark Franco, headman of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe; Susana De Anda and Laurel Firestone of the Community Water Center, with Coachella and Tulare County residents; and Debbie Davis from the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, with Maywood residents. Reverend Lindi Ramsden, Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California, and Shelley Moskowitz, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, also testified in support of the legislation.

Residents of California communities without access to safe drinking water traveled hundreds of miles to attend the committee hearings. Legislators were visibly moved as 75 advocates of all ages and backgrounds gave powerful testimony in support of each bill in the Human Right to Water package.

“Today we have taken one step closer to the day when everyone in California has access to safe, affordable water to bathe in, cook with, and drink,” said Debbie Davis, Policy Director for the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water.

Supporters of the bill include the Winnemem Wintu (McCloud River) Tribe, Clean Water Action, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Stockton, Urban Semillas, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Unitarian Universalists Ministry California, Community Water Center, Food & Water Watch, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and Southern California Water Alliance.

The Human Right to Water bill package will establish a right to water for basic human needs as a policy of the state of California and makes changes to existing programs to begin to realize this right.

In reaction to the news, UUSC President and CEO William F. Schulz said, “Although the committee’s approval is just the beginning of the legislative process, it is a major first step that signals ever growing support for a human-right-to-water law in California. As we have seen on many occasions, what happens in California can have a dramatic ripple effect in states across the country.”

At noon, the water justice mascot, “La Gotita,” and safe drinking water advocates rallied at the corner of 11th and L Streets in Sacramento near the capitol building, raising visibility for the water justice movement.

The package of bills, if passed this legislative session, will do the following:

• Establish the human right to water in California (AB 685)
• Require that public health notifications about water be made available in the languages the community speaks (AB 938)
• Promote water-system consolidation for small communities to provide sustainable, affordable solutions where possible (AB 938)
• Require that state water plan include provisions to provide everyone in California with safe drinking water (AB 1187)
• Ensure access to funding to clean up contamination for disadvantaged communities (AB 221)
• Require local municipalities to include a plan to provide services to island or fringe communities when they update their general plans (SB 244)

More than 11.5 million Californians rely on water from suppliers that experienced at least one violation of State Drinking Water Standards as reported to the Department of Public Health in 2004. As many as 8.5 million Californians rely on supplies that experienced more than five instances of unsafe levels in a single year.

“In far too many communities, the sole water supply is contaminated, and families unable to afford treatment are left entirely without safe water,” according to Davis. “In the Central Valley and Central Coast regions, more than 90% of communities depend on groundwater for drinking while nitrate levels in groundwater are sometimes well above safe limits. These communities are at particular risk of adverse health impacts from contaminated water supplies.”

For more information, contact: Debbie Davis, Environmental Coalition for Water (916) 743-4406, debbie [at] ejcw.org, or Shelley Moskowitz, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, 857-222-8824, smoskowitz [at] uusc.org.