A civil rights hero focuses on a new fight at the Capitol: clean drinking water

Civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, 89, mounted the north steps of the Capitol on Monday afternoon. She stood aside safe water activists to celebrate the state’s $130 million safe water funding proposal and pressure legislators to pass the measure this week.

“This is a big, giant moment in the state of California to finally provide safe drinking water to a million families,” Huerta said. “The only thing we need now is for the Senate and the Assembly to vote yes.”

The proposal allocates $130 million of the state’s annual budget to improving water systems in communities with contaminated drinking water. It also commits to continuously funding the water cleanup until 2030, through various bills called “budget trailers.”

The funding will, in part, come from California’s cap-and-trade fund, which aims to fight man-made climate change by financing projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The state’s budget must be passed by Saturday, but the Legislature can wait until the last day of session, Sept. 13, to pass the budget trailers.

At Monday’s gathering, which was co-hosted by the Community Water Center and the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, activists from communities in the Central Valley that lack safe drinking water wore matching blue shirts that said “thirsty for justice” and shared their stories.

Melynda Metheney, 32, a resident of West Goshen in Tulare County, said the water crisis got so bad in her area that she and her two young daughters couldn’t even shower with the water.

“But we’re still paying extra fees for a problem that we didn’t initially start,” she said.

Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers labor union alongside Cesar Chavez in 1962, said that her own daughter pays $200 a month for water she can’t drink.

She applauded the state’s funding efforts to not only clean up the water, but also maintain the operating systems that often contribute to the problem. She urged the legislature to vote on the budget trailers this week.

The group at the Capitol also participated in a water ceremony led by indigenous people to “honor what is essential to human life,” according to Jonathan Nelson, policy director of the Community Water Center.

He described the proposal as “historic,” adding it’s “very difficult to secure sustained safe water funding.”

This campaign for safe drinking water has been active for three years, Nelson said, and mainly driven by community members.

Passing the proposal is “a chance to finally close a very shameful and unjust chapter in our history,” he said. But he acknowledged the fight isn’t over just yet.

“Even though we do feel the history of this moment, we won’t fully rest until the entirety of the state’s water proposal is passed into law.”

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Meghan Bobrowsky, from Scripps College, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee, focusing on breaking news and school funding. She grew up in nearby Davis.