Background and FAQs on Safe Drinking Water Funding Proposals

Here are some frequently asked questions on the issue:

Q: Why do some disadvantaged communities lack access to safe drinking water?

A: Most Californians have access to safe drinking water. However, there are some rural disadvantaged communities in California with water sources that have been impaired by contaminants such as nitrates and arsenic. In some areas these contaminants are naturally occurring, whereas in other areas it is a result of water pollution. Nonetheless, for some low-income communities, treatment solutions are financially out of reach. This is a serious public health and social issue that must be addressed.

Q: Why oppose a tax proposal that would add less than a dollar to people’s home water bills?

A: Local public water agencies are committed to providing safe and reliable water and agree with the goal of assisting disadvantaged communities without safe drinking water but oppose state mandates for placing additional charges on drinking water bills for several reasons.

Any tax on water would require thousands of local water agencies and cities to reconfigure their billing systems to add a tax as a separate item, then act as state taxation agencies and forward the funds to Sacramento. While well-intentioned, the administrative costs for thousands of water systems would make water less affordable.

Effective funding solutions already exist for achieving this goal. In 2018, the legislative budget conference committee rejected the statewide water tax and left it out of the state budget, instead setting aside $23.5 million in General Fund revenue to safe drinking water. At the same time, California voters approved Proposition 68 with $250 million for safe drinking water that is prioritized for disadvantaged communities.

Q: Will the funds I pay help my community?

A: It’s possible, however, it is not guaranteed. Most areas of California already have access to safe drinking water and those communities would not receive any benefit from the charge. The money raised would go to Sacramento to a fund to be distributed by the State Water Resources Control Board to communities that are impacted by unsafe drinking water conditions.

Q: How do California residents feel about the previously proposed drinking water tax?

A: In January 2018, Tulchin Research conducted a statewide poll showing that 73% of likely voters oppose a new tax on drinking water, both initially and even after learning how the funds were intended to be spent.

Additionally, 74% would prefer using existing funding sources rather than establishing a new tax on drinking water.

To learn more about the poll, click HERE.

Q: What is California leadership proposing now?

A: On June 9, the 2019 Conference Committee approved a safe drinking water funding solution for disadvantaged communities in California that do not have access to safe drinking water. The solution will be enacted through the 2019-’20 Budget and related trailer bill language. 

In the first year, the safe drinking water funding solution will be funded with $100 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) and $30 million from the General Fund. This will be part of the 2019-’20 Fiscal Year State Budget.

After the first year, the funding will be 5% of the GGRF continuously appropriated – capped at $130 million per year. The agreement includes General Fund funding as a backstop if 5% of the GGRF is less than $130 million in any year. The funding will sunset in 2030. This new solution does not include a water tax.