California board approves $1.3 billion to tackle drinking water problems

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The California State Water Resources Control Board has approved spending $1.3 billion to help local water systems provide safe drinking water for state residents.

More than 1 million Californians across the state lack access to safe drinking water because of contamination from arsenic, nitrates and other chemicals, according to the water board.

“Communities across the state have struggled for far too long without access to safe drinking water,” said State Water Resources Control Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel.

The new funding approved Tuesday will enable smaller water systems to modernize how they operate and maintain treatment systems, to build the necessary technical managerial capacity, and consolidate smaller systems with nearby larger ones.

The money will be parsed out at $130 million a year for the next 10 years from the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund.

The fund was created last month when California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 200, legislation that provides ongoing funding for safe and reliable drinking water using revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program.

“The fact that more than a million Californians can’t rely on clean water to drink or bathe in is a moral disgrace,” Newsom said during the bill signing last month. “Parents shouldn’t have to worry about their kids drinking from the water fountain at school, and families shouldn’t have to dump water over their heads to shower every day.”

Newsom called the funding critically important to tackling California’s long-standing safe drinking water issues. The governor had originally called for an additional tax on water bills to fund the program in his draft budget introduced in January. Legislators balked at the tax, reaching the compromise of using money from the state's greenhouse gas program.

The board also voted to authorize spending $80 million in one-time appropriations from Proposition 68, the statewide bond measure voters passed in 2018, and $31.5 million in one-time general fund dollars to provide emergency funding for projects serving disadvantaged communities.

“With today’s action, we can begin to close this gap and ensure that the essential human right to safe and affordable water is provided to all Californians,” Esquivel said.

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