Drinking Water Help is Coming; Other Water Issues Remain

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Gov. Gavin Newsom received nearly universal praise for pushing and signing a bill to create clean drinking water. Yet, he had to maneuver around obstacles from all sides, including abandoning his original plan for the money, to get the funding for the clean water plan. Meanwhile, other water issues remain.

The money to support the law comes from California’s cap-and-trade program, which raised objections from some environmentalists and legislators that the cap-and-trade money was to be used exclusively for efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions. Taking $130 million a year from cap-and-trade funds would reduce efforts to battle emissions, the argument went.

By securing the money from cap-and-trade funds, Newsom had to abandon his plan to create a tax to fund the program. The governor proposed a tax on water customers up to $10 a month and, combined with fees on some farmers and fertilizer sellers, would raise $140 million a year. 

Both Republicans and Democrats opposed the governor’s revenue plan arguing that tax weary Californians would not like to see their water bills increased while the state was sitting on a $20 billion surplus.

Newsom, however, did not want to dip into the surplus set aside for economic downturns. He wanted to have a direct source of money for clean water, and the cap-and-trade program was available.

His office made the dubious argument that by cleaning up water resources and water delivery for residents, there would be no need to continue to ship into communities affected by the bad water plastic, disposal water bottles. Ending deliveries by truck of plastic bottles, reducing the truck traffic from the roads, would satisfy the mandate for cap-and-trade funds to deal with greenhouse gases.

More than a stretch, I’d say, but any more so than justifying millions of dollars of cap-and-trade money for the high-speed rail?

The bad water is mostly in the Central Valley, but not exclusively. As Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas reminded in a statement after the governor signed SB 200, “Los Angeles County had to step in and tap its Public Works Department to take over the troubled Sativa Water District…to provide clean, clear and safe water to its 6,800 customers in Compton and Willowbrook for the long term.”

As to many applauding the use of cap-and-trade money instead of a new tax, they are singing a different tune from when the cap-and-trade extension was pushed forward. It was argued at that time that the cap-and-trade money, itself, was a tax and any law using the funds from cap-and-trade required a two-thirds vote to pass.

The California Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit in support of the notion that cap-and-trade amounted to a tax but a Court of Appeal turned aside the challenge saying the decision to participate in cap-and-trade auctions for greenhouse gas credits was a business driven decision, not one compelled by the government.

Now, most everyone has come together over the clean drinking water funding and rightly so. Water is a key element of life.  The state should set water as a top priority, but not only for drinking water. The issues of water for the farmland and water storage — that’s right dams—has lingered for too long. The governor and legislature should follow up their positive move on drinking water by giving farmers more certainty about water delivery while at the same time building storage to hold water for when it is needed by all Californians.

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