What are some of the persisting safety issues with drinking water in the state, and what would the Freshwater Protection Fund change?
More than 16 million Californians get at least some of their drinking water from groundwater, which comes from both public water supplies and private wells. The state regulates and tests our communities’ public water systems, but private domestic wells are unregulated and untested. As a result, many neighborhoods throughout California, especially those in agricultural areas, currently lack safe drinking water due to nitrate-contaminated groundwater. This contamination comes primarily from nitrogen in fertilizer used to grow crops. If consumed at a dangerous concentration, nitrate contaminated water can put individuals, especially pregnant women and infants, at a particularly high risk for serious health problems and even death. Newborns can suffer from “blue baby syndrome,” where there is not enough oxygen in their blood, and adults can experience gastric problems.
Most communities with nitrates in their water lack the funding resources to clean up their water supply or start getting water from other sources. Sadly, California does not have the infrastructure or a dedicated fund to assist with providing clean drinking water.
Springfield Terrace, an agricultural community in Monterey County, provides a sobering example of the problem of nitrate contamination in drinking water. Since 1986, wells in this community have shown nitrate levels above the 45 parts per million (ppm) level considered safe. At this time, some of this community’s wells have nitrate levels reaching as high as 300 ppm. Residents of this predominantly farm worker community can’t afford to increase water rates to finance the replacement of their contaminated well, nor can they afford to travel 20 miles to purchase water for daily use.
That’s why I introduced legislation to establish the Freshwater Protection Fund, also known as Assembly Bill 467. The purpose of this fund is to create a reliable, stable funding source to provide long-term safe drinking water infrastructure as well as short-term solutions for communities impacted by nitrate contamination.
Specifically, the money in the fund can be used for “direct” and “indirect” assistance to help ensure that our water is safe to drink. Direct assistance includes the provision of alternate non community water supplies, closures of wells impacting groundwater, and monitoring of private wells and grants. Indirect assistance includes public education and awareness campaigns, evaluation of water management practices, and other research. It’s long past time to ensure that all Californians’ drinking water is safe. This legislation is long overdue. AB 467 is currently under consideration in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
What are your thoughts on the governor’s proposed May budget revision?
In the legislature, we need to pass an on-time, balanced state budget by June 15. I appreciate the governor’s commitment to maintaining fiscal stability, and I look forward to being part of the process to review thoroughly the governor’s proposals and revenue projections. As a member of the Budget Committee, I want to make sure that the final budget continues fiscal responsibility, strengthens the middle class, and protects our state’s most vulnerable residents.
Ultimately, I, along with my colleagues in the legislature, will focus on making sure our state takes the critical steps needed to improve our schools, small businesses, safety net, higher education, courts and other key areas that have been harmed during the Great Recession. I will be sure to update you on our progress over the next month.