The time has come for California’s Governor to stand up for clean water. Rivers, creeks, and bays that are polluted with trash, toxic runoff, and heavy metals prevent California communities, particularly underserved communities, from using and enjoying local waters, and cause serious health impacts to children and families who do swim or fish. As national clean water laws and their enforcement is eroded, we must improve the function of our Water Boards to ensure that every Californian has access to safe, clean water. Governor Newsom can do so by ensuring that his first selection of Regional Water Board Member appointments are water leaders.
California is a national leader in Clean Water Act laws. But without effective implementation and enforcement of clean water regulations, those laws become just words on a page. It is up to our State and Regional Water Boards to ensure that our clean water laws are put into practice. The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) engages in a wide spectrum of critical regulatory and funding programs that affect the health and well-being of California communities, including water quality regulatory programs under the federal Clean Water Act and State Porter-Cologne Act, overseeing the water rights program, the safe drinking water program (recently added), and administering California’s significant grant and loan programs. The State Water Board works in concert with nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (Regional Water Boards), who are tasked with setting local agency priorities, developing and implementing regional water quality and water supply permits and policies, and overseeing local enforcement.
Each Water Board is made up of Board Members who are responsible for ensuring clean water permits and policies are carried out successfully. The composition of Members on the nine Regional Water Boards, as well as the State Water Board, significantly impacts the quality of decision-making, and the degree to which communities and industries are represented in critical public health and environmental decisions. Identifying, vetting, and confirming Regional Water Board appointees who reflect the communities they represent, have requisite expertise, and are not barred from serving due to conflicts of interest is an ongoing challenge.
This summer will be Governor Newsom’s first opportunity to incorporate his clean water values into his Regional Water Board appointments. Governor Newsom’s new Regional Water Board appointees should be environmental leaders who will prioritize protecting California’s waterways and communities. His appointees should share the vision and values enumerated throughout California’s clean water laws and should represent the full diversity of the state. Finally, the Governor’s Regional Water Board appointments should be dedicated to ensuring our clean water laws are property implemented, that water quality standards are met in a timely manner, and that dischargers who don’t meet our clean water laws are held accountable through enforceable permits and policies.
The Governor’s upcoming Regional Board Member appointments will set an important tone for the value his Administration places on achieving our clean water law goals. As California’s water quality watchdogs, the California Waterkeepers are waiting intently for new water leadership from the Governor.