In California, 97% of residents have access to drinking water that meets or exceeds quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Although that may seem like a good percentage of people, it is not if one is one of the 1 million remaining people that cannot drink water from the tap without risking getting sick. A lack of political will is the primary reason that this is the case. It is a basic human right to have access to clean water. Being that the United States is the wealthiest country in the world, one would think that everyone would have clean water to drink. Less than 2% of the Proposition 50 funding for clean water has actually reached the drinking water that supplies the most disadvantaged neighborhoods. In 2007 alone, there were about 1.2 million Californians drinking water that may have violated one or more of the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for safe and clean drinking water (Water is not a Luxury, n.d.).
Currently, more than 11.5 million Californians rely on water suppliers that, in 2007, had at least one violation of the state drinking water standards. 8.5 million additional Californians were drinking water from suppliers that had received five or more violations that year (Price 2012).
In the Central Valley and Central Coast regions, 90% of the communities rely on groundwater as their sole source of drinking water. With 325,000 Central Valley residents receiving water in 2006 that had levels of bacteria, arsenic, nitrates, and/or disinfectants that exceeded legal limits, it would be hopeful to reason that legislative officials would not turn their backs on this problem (Water is not a Luxury, n.d.). Rural, low-income families with water provided by public water systems that are relatively small in size are especially vulnerable (Price, 2012). There are families that are spending up to 20% of their incomes on water because they need to buy it twice. First, they are buying the unsafe water being dispensed into their homes through the tap. Second, they are also buying bottled water with which they drink and cook. Additionally, California has the highest number of schools with unsafe drinking water for children that any state in the country (Water is not a Luxury, n.d.).
The bill ab685 specifically states that California has policy on its books “that every human being has the right to clean, affordable, and accessible water for human consumption, cooking and sanitary purposes.” When new programs or policies are being revised or implemented, grants are being considered, or regulations being considered, this bill must be considered by incorporating measures of the bill into projects and the public can hold public officials accountable for water that is deemed to be unsafe. All state entities will be required to follow this measure (Water is not a Luxury, n.d.). Unsafe water is becoming more of an issue in urban areas as the infrastructure is becoming aged (Price, 2012).
The opposition states that ab 685 supersedes the constitution and other statutes when in fact it does not do such since statutes cannot supersede the constitution. The opposition claims that ab 685 requires millions of dollars be spent reviewing and revising existing regulations, policies, and criteria for funding (Water is not a Luxury, n.d.). The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) does state, in a letter cited by the Honorable Christine Kehoe, (D) Senator, “that are already stretched thin because of budget cuts” to spend untold amounts of money. She also stresses that people who do not pay their bills will not be threatened by having their water shut off (Kehoe, 2012). The opposition claims that ab 685 requires millions of dollars be spent reviewing and revising existing regulations, policies, and criteria for funding when, in fact, this is intentionally avoided by the bill. The opposition states that the bill is redundant and unnecessary, as the California Water Code Section 106 of 1913 is a “fundamental cornerstone in the water rights system in this state” (Kehoe, 2012) which is untrue since they are referring to a 100 year-old law giving households priority over farms for washing cars and filling swimming pools (Water is not a Luxury, n.d.).
In countries where laws are weak and the common person has difficulty being heard is where one might find it common to hear that the drinking water is contaminated. That is not how California is usually thought of by Californians themselves or people elsewhere in the world. So, how come Californians living in the southern Central Valley, these communities where the people are mostly poor and mostly migrant, living in the middle of California’s “industrial age” belt, are drinking water that is unsafe, contaminated by runoff from large-scale and very profitable dairies? The excess from the pesticides and fertilizers applied at the big farms is what is most often being found in the water of these rural areas, a little further down the water supply chain from the dairies. Additionally, the antibiotics that farmers use to enhance the cows dairy production are passed on through excrement from the cows and then into groundwater. The water treatment plants are not designed to clean antibiotics, which are protein based, from the water supply.
The first two sections of the bill, (a) and (b), appear to be adequate. Section 106.3 is added to the Water Code, to read:
“106.3 (a) It is hereby declared to be established policy of the state that every human
being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human
consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.
(b) All relevant state agencies, including the department, the state board, and the State
or establishing policies, regulations, and grant criteria when those policies, regulations,
and grant criteria are pertinent to the uses of water described in this section.”
The last nine words of section (c) make no sense whatsoever.
“(c) This section does not expand any obligation of the state to provide water or to require the expenditure of additional resources to develop water infrastructure beyond the obligations that may exist pursuant to subdivision (b).”
Sections (d) and (e) appear to be ways to create loopholes to not need to enforce the bill at all.
“(d) This section shall not apply to water supplies for new development.
(e) The implementation of this section shall not infringe on the rights or responsibilities of any public water system.”
Even as a person who is not in the legal profession, it is relatively easy to ascertain that there are some basic steps needed to protect the health and welfare of the people living in the southern Central Valley. Pollution from agriculture needs to be reduced. A relatively few people are hurting for the benefit of the industrial farms. This practice needs to be put to an end. Regulations need to be put in place and enforced to protect the lives of those who are suffering from agricultural waste. The farmers who are or who have damaged groundwater supplies should pay for substitute water supplies for the people who cannot use their water for the personal drinking and cooking purposes. Another option is that these same farmers pay for the relocation of these communities if the residents are willing to move.
The way which the bill currently stands, the farmers do not take responsibility for their actions, rather, the public water agencies will bear the cost of fixing the problem. This will be paid for by raising the cost of the water supplied to the residents, the same ones receiving the contaminated water. So, with this system, those suffering will be paying to fix the problem for which they are not at all responsible (Zetland, 2012).
On the national level, it is the Safe Drinking Water Act that grants the EPA the authority to set the standards for the country for what is deemed to be safe drinking water for all people. Since the act was passed in 1974, the EPA has routinely tested for 80 contaminants that can be found in drinking water. If California’s public water is getting cited for five or more violations, that is significant amount if there are only 80 contaminants that testing identifies. Many of the contaminants come from local the agriculture industry. Local and private suppliers of water directly responsible for the quality of the water delivered to those they service. The suppliers also test their water and report those results to the state. Technical assistance is provided to suppliers from both the states and the EPA. Both the states and the EPA can also take legal action against suppliers who do not meet EPA standards (USEPA, 2012).
The bill is sponsored by Eng and coauthored by Fong, Perez, and Wolk (Current bill status, 2012). The topic is considered to be state water policy and classified as non-urgent, requiring a majority vote, non-state-mandated local program, fiscal in nature, with a non-tax levy (Current bill history).
It is the duty of the government to protect the citizens it serves. Basic needs for survival are adequate food, water, clothing, and shelter. The United States actively supports the United Nations and its efforts to ensure clean drinking water and water for sanitary purposes for people throughout the world. Agencies in the United States actively raise money for the same causes. Philanthropists have charities that focus on these same efforts. All of them are admirable and worth-while. All people have the right to clean and safe water to drink and for sanitation. That includes all Californians.
Complete bill history. (2012). A. B. 685. Retrieved from
Current bill status. (2012). A. B. 685. Retrieved from
Kehoe, C. (2012). AB 685 heads to senate appropriations suspense file – letters of opposition
needed. Association of California Water Agencies. Retrieved from
Price, N. (2012, August 23). Safe water is a human right. The Davis Enterprise.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2012). EPA drinking water and health: What you
The Legal Implications of AB 685 (Eng), California’s Human Right to Water Bill. (2012). Safe
Water Alliance. Retrieved from
Water is not a luxury: Support the human right to water. (n.d.). AB 685 Questions and Answers.
Brown Miller Communications. Retrieved from
Zetland, D. (2012, December 4). Re: Water, human rights, and government failure [Web blog
message]. Retrieved from