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A sensible way to keep struggling water systems afloat in California

A sign urges water conservation in front of recycled wastewater holding pond at the Orange County Water District recharge facility in Anaheim in 2016.
A sign urges water conservation in front of recycled wastewater holding pond at the Orange County Water District recharge facility in Anaheim in 2016. AP

We all can agree every Californian should have access to safe drinking water. But too many — nearly 800,000 people — do not.

The unfortunate reality is their local drinking water system serves contaminated water or can’t provide reliable service, and also can’t afford to invest in improvements to make the system safe. There are about 300 of these chronically noncompliant systems, most small and in rural, isolated communities.

We can take an important step toward fixing this important health and safety problem by empowering newly created local agencies to supply clean and safe drinking water.

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Danielle Blacet

Assembly Bill 2050, the Small System Water Authority Act of 2018, is expected to be heard Wednesday in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. A broad coalition of California water agencies is behind this effective, affordable plan and it has growing support in the state Capitol.

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David Guy

The bill would allow noncompliant water systems to consolidate within a larger water authority, where they could use their shared expertise to build the technical, managerial and financial capacity they need to provide clean drinking water to their customers over the long term.

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Local water systems would benefit from economies of scale, a bigger base of customers and enhanced funding opportunities. The process to create a water authority would be transparent and locally controlled; it would form as an independent special district under the Local Agency Formation Commission.

The current consolidation process relies on the willingness of a compliant water system to consolidate with a failing water system. Such a partnership can be challenging. AB 2050 would create a way for five or more noncompliant water systems, even if they aren’t close to one another geographically, to merge.

In 2012, California adopted a human right to safe water. Although progress has been made, there’s more work to be done to provide safe, affordable and accessible drinking water for all Californians. Water agencies across the state believe this common-sense approach for consolidation is a key part of the answer.

Danielle Blacet is water director at the California Municipal Utilities Association and can be contacted at dblacet@cmua.org. David Guy is president of the Northern California Water Association and can be contacted at dguy@norcalwater.org.
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