By Ezra David Romero
California farmers and environmental justice leaders are joining forces to support a bill that would help fund a clean drinking water program.
The coalition, which includes the Community Water Center, is urging California Assembly leaders to bring SB623, the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to a vote, instead of tabling it until the next legislative session. If passed, the law would fund long-term operations and maintenance of water systems for the 300 plus California communities dealing with water contamination.
Alyssa Houtby, with the trade association California Citrus Mutual, says the ag world realizes farming practices have tainted water supplies with contaminants like nitrates.
“Although the farming practices of today significantly reduce or eliminate the potential for nitrates to reach groundwater, the problem still exists and it must be addressed in an equitable and balanced manner,” Houtby says.
Capital for the fund would be collected by placing a fee on fertilizer, dairies and on monthly water bills. Chris Valadez, with the California Fresh Fruit Association, says the bill is important because it focuses on all Californians – including farmers – taking responsibility for drinking water issues in the state. “This overcomes long-running obstacles of what has been a limited focus onto small regions and maybe one industry,” says Valdez. “I think this bill does it . . . by expanding this to a statewide issue and a statewide generation of resources.”
Virginia Gurrola, former mayor of the City of Porterville, says she has a message for legislators deciding on whether to vote on the bill this legislative session. She says they need to think about the children that live in disadvantaged communities with contaminated water.
“These children deserve to go to their homes, to their schools, to their churches and turn on their water and have clean tap water,” says Gurola. “That’s what it’s about.”
The bill now sits in the Assembly and if it isn’t passed by Sept 15, it will have to sit idle until the legislature reconvenes in January.