Published: October 4, 2018

    Everything You Need to Know About the New Voluntary Water Contamination Tax in California

    California is a vast stretch of land, and much of it does not receive enough rainwater for adequate groundwater repletion. Early in 2018 reports indicated that 44% of California was experiencing moderate drought conditions, even though the drought scare had rotated out of the news cycle. Southern counties are typically the worst hit, but their robust populations incentivize the state to prioritize clean drinking water in those areas.

    Families that live in the Central Valley aren’t as lucky. 700,000 people in California are regularly exposed to contaminants like arsenic, nitrates, and uranium in their drinking water, according to California’s Water Resources Control Board. Counties in the Central Valley are hit hard by the drought and don’t have the budget to sufficiently treat their precious water supply, leaving residents in jeopardy.

    To remedy this problem state legislators have introduced Senate Bill 845 that, if approved, would introduce a voluntary water tax on utility customers statewide. The bill would go into effect on January 1, 2020, and would require all water service systems with 200 or more service connections to provide customers an opportunity to donate to a fund for improving water quality in low-income regions like the Central Valley.

    Where Is the Money Going?

    All proceeds from the new water contamination voluntary tax will go into a fund designated to clean up contaminated water in rural communities that are not serviced by water treatment facilities containing the latest filtration technology.

    Supporters of the bill emphasize that this measure will protect nearly a million Californians who otherwise have no line of defense against these harmful contaminants. “This is a hidden but real public health crisis right here in our state,” noted Jonathan Nelson, a policy director at the Community Water Center, a nonprofit advocating for public access to clean water. “For years, the state water board as well as drinking water advocates have been calling for a new sustainable source of funding.”

    While an earlier version of the proposed legislation would have made the tax mandatory, it has been revised to provide customers the option to opt out of the charge.

    The Path Forward Is Unclear

    Opponents of the bill claim that California has more than enough money to fund the cleanup, which has an estimated cost of $150 million. David Wolfe, the legislative director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, commented to Capital Public Radio that voter-approved water bonds like Proposition 68 could be used to finance the process.

    Supporters of the bill respond that bond money and state general funds are not reliable enough to pay for ongoing operation and maintenance of water treatment facilities. “California has known about this problem a long time and has chosen not to address it,” said Veronica Garibay, co-director of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

    Families living in areas affected by uranium, nitrates, or lead contamination can address your concerns by talking with a Pelican Water professional today to decide on the best filter system for your needs.