California, What Happened to Every Human Being Has the Right to Safe, Clean Water?

August 30th, 2023

Is California serious about racial equity and the belief that every human being has the right to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water? Or is it just lip-service for political gain? It’s time Governor Newsom and the State Water Board put up or shut up.

In 2012, California passed the Human Right to Water law, AB 685, which statutorily affirms that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.” Since then, the state has made numerous investments to provide environmental justice communities with bottled water – but has done little to nothing to protect those communities’ drinking water from agricultural pollution. In 2021, the State Water Board adopted its Racial Equity Resolution, which reaffirmed the human right to water and committed itself to making racial equity central to the Water Boards’ work so that outcomes were not determined by a person’s race and the benefits are shared equitably by all people.

Unfortunately, those commitments have become merely aspirational – just words on paper. This summer, the State Water Board released its Draft Agricultural Order for the Central Coast. The Order is in response to an appeal by CCKA and other NGOs that the Regional Board’s Order was not protective of water quality for drinking water and aquatic life. Instead, the State Water Board ignored our aquatic life concerns, and stripped all enforceable limits for fertilizer applications to protect drinking water.

Fertilizer application on farms is the primary cause of widespread and severe groundwater nitrate contamination along California’s Central Coast. Twenty-five percent of all domestic drinking water wells in the region have nitrate concentrations that exceed safe drinking levels. Excessive nitrate concentrations in drinking water is a major public health issue – health impacts include methemoglobinemia (“blue baby syndrome”), and an increase of cancer and thyroid disease in adults.

Despite these findings, not to mention the state’s supposed commitment to racial equity, the State Water Board is proposing to remove drinking water protections for communities of color in the Central Coast. Removing these enforceable limits will continue to jeopardize the lives of environmental justice communities that are already at risk or impacted by nitrate contamination.

It’s time California got serious about tackling racial inequity. Just this month, the U.S. EPA opened a civil rights investigation due to the discriminatory mismanagement of water quality protections in the state’s Bay-Delta that have disproportionately impacted tribes and communities of color. Now, the state wants to remove drinking water protections for communities of color. The state’s proposal to remove fertilizer limits would fly in the face of the state’s “commitment” to achieving the human right to water. CCKA is urging the State Water Board to correct these historic harms and injustices, especially in underserved rural communities, by maintaining fertilizer limits and protecting groundwater.

Categories: Agriculture, Drinking Water, Happening Now