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California Legislators Want Safe Drinking Water. They Haven't Agreed On How To Fund It.

Kerry Klein
Valley Public Radio

A state senate committee is set to vote on a bill today that would address safe and affordable drinking water throughout California, a goal Governor Gavin Newsom has also prioritized in his proposed budget. Still to be decided is how to fund it.

Newsom has proposed taxing residential water users a dollar a month, and establishing “Safe Drinking Water Fees” for dairies, fertilizer users, and other animal farmers. Some water contaminants can be traced to agriculture and pesticide use, like nitrates and 1,2,3-TCP. But some contaminants are naturally occurring, like arsenic.

“I think agriculture sometimes is easy to blame for all the problems because there’s not a lot of us,” says Joey Airoso, a fourth generation dairy farmer from Tulare County.

Airoso doesn’t usually support taxes, but he does think clean drinking water should be available to Californians.

These taxes could go into effect if Newsom’s budget passes in its current form in June. Senate Bill 200, which is being heard today, proposes cleaning up drinking water with $150 million in general funds instead.

Veronica Garibay is with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, an organization that has advocated for clean drinking water and supports Newsom’s call for a tax to fund it.

“Today there is no source of funding that pays for ongoing operation and maintenance costs, which is really expensive when having to treat contamination in disadvantaged communities,” says Garibay. “What ends up happening is communities simply cannot afford to have safe drinking water at the tap.”

Garibay adds that families in affected communities end up paying out-of-pocket for bottled water and medical costs due to health problems caused by drinking contaminated water. She says using taxes to support the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund would be a more reliable revenue stream than money from the general fund.

“I don’t know, in this particular issue, how we fix the problem quickly without everybody playing a role,” says Joey Airoso.

But what role he plays is still in flux while Newsom’s budget is being considered, and the legislature hears other bills on providing clean drinking water.

Laura Tsutsui was a reporter and producer for Valley Public Radio. She joined the station in 2017 as a news intern, and later worked as a production assistant and weekend host. Laura covered local issues ranging from politics to housing, and produced the weekly news program Valley Edition. She left the station in November 2020.
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