A Decade of the Human Right to Water: Advancing Safe Drinking Water for All Californians

Wednesday, Oct 5th, 2022

By Bruce Houdesheldt

The State Water Board this week commemorated the human right to water, with California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Yana Garcia, State Water Board members, and community representatives taking a moment to reflect on the signature legislation and a decade of progress. We laud the State Water Board in its leadership and efforts and we also congratulate the leaders in Northern California who have been working hard every day for the past decade to ensure the human right to water in every part of the Sacramento River Basin.

The human right to water was signed into law on September 25, 2012 by Governor Jerry Brown, now in the Water Code as Section 106.3. The state statutorily recognizes that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.” The human right to water extends to all Californians, including disadvantaged individuals and groups and communities from the urban disadvantaged community of Maywood in Southern California, which completed a new water treatment project that removes manganese and iron, to fire ravaged rural Lake County’s Cobb Area water district, which completed the consolidation of seven small water service districts in the Cobb Mountain area in 2019.

Similarly, during the past decade NCWA, through its Board of Directors representing local water agencies, counties and rural communities, has committed to continued work within the Sacramento River Basin on Ensuring Access to Safe Drinking Water for All California Communities. NCWA’s North State Drinking Water Solutions Network (Network) serves as a forum for all interested parties to share information and we coordinate efforts to ensure that all communities in the Sacramento River Basin have access to safe drinking water. This includes the many Disadvantaged Communities in Northern California. Successful implementation of sustainable drinking water solutions for communities requires utilization of both the policy tools and financial resources available from state and federal agencies as well as the knowledge and expertise of local communities and water managers. By emphasizing partnerships with local agencies and administrators, the state will be best positioned to identify and help implement sustainable, locally-appropriate solutions.

The Network has a sustained focus on entities that are in violation of one or more primary drinking water standards. The number of water systems listed by the State Water Board as out of compliance in the Sacramento River Basin has been significantly reduced in the past decade, with more work ahead. The efforts to return water systems to compliance through local actions under new and existing state programs will continue with a goal to have no communities on the list within the next several years.

This year, with the lack of surface water available throughout the Basin (particularly on the west-side), there has been a focus on dry wells and making sure that people and their communities have access to water. Community leaders have stepped up in amazing ways this year and have been coordinating throughout the region, by helping local communities through this challenging year. Here, we appreciate and thank the state and federal leaders who are providing assistance to local communities, as well as non-profit organizations such as Rural Community Assistance Foundation (RCAC) and North Valley Community Foundation, who are playing a key role in both developing and then implementing local solutions for safe drinking water. See Resources Available to Assist Local Communities with Water Shortages.

There is also a parallel effort through our water quality coalitions to protect all beneficial uses of water, including drinking water. See Ensuring High Quality Water in the Sacramento River Basin for Communities, Ecosystems, and Farms. The Sacramento Valley is sourcing our sustainable future through responsible management of the essential resource that millions of birds, hundreds of thousands of fish, thousands of farms and millions of people all rely on–water. See The Sacramento River Basin: Improving Water Quality.

We value the human right to water and the leaders in Northern California are committed to help ensure access to safe drinking water—both now and into the future. Through all of our efforts to manage water from ridgetop to river mouth for multiple beneficial uses —including water for cities and rural communities, farms, fish, birds, hydropower and recreation—NCWA has found that locally-developed collaborative solutions provide the best path to addressing water management challenges.

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