Historic Victory: California Becomes First State to Fund Human Right to Water

Water Foundation applauds the incredible work of our partners who have led a statewide movement to secure the human right to water in collaboration with countless community leaders and advocates. Juliet Christian-Smith and Alesandra Nájera celebrate this tremendous victory and share what comes next. 

For the first time ever, California has ongoing funding to end the drinking water crisis. Right now, one million Californians live with tap water that is too toxic for drinking, bathing, and cooking. Today, July 24, 2019, Governor Newsom signed SB 200, which provides annual appropriations totaling $1.4 billion over the next 11 years for safe, clean, and affordable drinking water for all residents, marking the beginning of the end to this shameful public health disaster.

While many people contributed to this historic victory, it would never have happened without the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund Coalition, whose tireless organizing and relentless advocacy in partnership with community leaders called attention to the hidden drinking water crisis and led the movement for real solutions. These partners, led by Clean Water Action, Community Water Center, and Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, have worked diligently to build presence and power in the Capitol, first passing a Human Right to Water in 2012 and now securing an historic funding commitment that will deliver on the promise of providing safe drinking water for all.

California’s drinking water victory is a reminder of the change that is possible when elected leaders listen deeply to voices of their constituents – and act. The state’s unprecedented new funding tackles the root causes of unsafe and unaffordable drinking water, including investment in pollution treatment systems, ongoing operations and maintenance, and regionalizing or restructuring chronically failing water suppliers. Community leaders on the front lines of California’s toxic taps crisis have been fighting for precisely this type of statewide support. They demanded that those with the power and ability make the human right to water a reality.

This year – a testament to those community leaders’ perseverance – Governor Newsom, Speaker Rendon, Pro Tem Atkins, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, and Senator Monning made securing the fundamental right to clean water a priority and galvanized extraordinary political will across the legislature.

From his first Cabinet meeting in a small Central Valley community with polluted groundwater to his State of the State address, Governor Newsom has championed permanent solutions to the drinking water crisis. In tours throughout the state this year, leaders in the Senate and Assembly made it clear that 2019 would be the year of safe and affordable drinking water. Despite complicated politics, these elected leaders prevailed in finding a long-term solution and, in so doing, setting a precedent for other states to follow.

What Comes Next?

We believe that where you live and how much money you get paid should not determine whether you have clean water. Your race, gender, and age should not decide that. Water is a human right.

In California, we’re committed to working with our partners to ensure the new drinking water funds are spent effectively and equitably and prioritize the communities most in need of help. Nationally, we have over 50,000 water suppliers, and more than 80 percent of those providers serve fewer than 3,000 customers. Just as in California, these small water systems are particularly vulnerable to contamination and lack funding for pollution treatment or other solutions — a reality the New York Times just exposed in a new story today, “The Crisis Lurking in Californians’ Taps: How 1,000 Water Systems May Be at Risk.”

California just demonstrated that we can do more than simply address these challenges with a piece-meal approach. The national drinking water crisis is solvable. At the Water Foundation, we are committed to cataloging what we have learned from this work and using those insights to support proven solutions and strategies in California and other states.

We are incredibly grateful to all who contributed to this success both through their advocacy on the front lines and through their philanthropic support. Over the three years that we have been supporting the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund Coalition, we’ve learned a lot from our community partners, including some powerful chants. One was still ringing in our ears as the final bill was signed by the Governor Newsom in the home of Carolina Garcia, one of the many community leaders who have led the way towards this victory: El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido! (The people united, will never be defeated!)

Photo: 2019 Water Strike in Sacramento by Community Water Center