Influencers Opinion

Should cap-and-trade funds be used to solve California’s water crisis? That depends

Note to readers: Each week through November 2019, a selection of our 101 California Influencers answers a question that is critical to California’s future. Topics include education, healthcare, environment, housing and economic growth.

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California Influencers this week answered one or both of the following the questions: What are your thoughts regarding Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature’s decision to use money from the state’s cap-and-trade funding to improve drinking water for at-risk Californians? How can California best provide safe and clean water for all of us? Below are the Influencers’ answers in their entirety.

“The right way to fund water cleanup would be to require the polluters to pay”

Kathryn Phillips - Director of Sierra Club California

It’s morally offensive that the world’s fifth largest economy allows more than a million Californians to go without clean drinking water. What’s particularly galling is that most of those Californians are without clean drinking water because of irresponsible actions by industry interests, particularly agricultural interests in the San Joaquin Valley, and irresponsible actions by local water agencies.

The right way to fund water cleanup would be to require the polluters to pay. Taxes on fertilizers and pesticides, for instance, would be one way to do that. But getting that kind of tax would have required a two-thirds legislative vote and there hasn’t been the political will in the legislature to do that. The next best way would be to commit funds from the general fund. Given the moral imperative to ensure clean water, such a use for general funds is appropriate. The votes were there for this solution.

Paying for clean water by taking money from the greenhouse gas reduction fund, which is necessarily used to reduce air pollution, is the wrong way to go. It is essentially forcing a Hobson’s choice on the same people who are suffering from dirty water: You get clean water or clean air, you can’t have both. Meanwhile the industries and agencies that created or allowed the pollution escape any responsibility to clean up the mess they created.

So why did the governor agree to this deal? This administration is new and still learning the nuances of environmental policy, including how to whack one mole without enabling another to pop up. The decision to tap into GGRF instead of the general fund is a clear example of the missteps that come with learning.

“The lack of access anywhere in the state is a public health issue that can now be addressed”

Brent Hastey - President of the Association of California Water Agencies

The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) appreciates the leadership of Governor Newsom, Senate President pro Tem Atkins, and Assembly Speaker Rendon and the work of Legislators and staff in both houses in developing and enacting this durable funding solution. Working with ACWA, I have long been a supporter of finding a sustainable funding source for

disadvantaged communities in the state that do not have access to safe drinking water. While a vast majority of Californians have access to safe drinking water, the lack of access anywhere in the state is a public health issue that can now be addressed thanks to this historic action. Moving forward, ACWA and other stakeholders will provide valuable input to the state on how to effectively and efficiently use the funding to solve this problem. Examples include closing the funding gap for operation and maintenance costs for treatment and consolidating small, unsustainable systems with other systems to provide safe drinking water.

“Drinking a glass of water should be a thoughtless act of good health”

Kevin de Leon - Senate President pro Tempore Emeritus

In California, home to the world’s 5th largest economy, drinking a glass of water should be a thoughtless act of good health. No one should turn on their faucet to cook or shower, only to find contaminated sludge. This crisis demands immediate action, because climate change – the great existential threat of our time – threatens to exacerbate it. As droughts continue to plague California, our access to potable water will narrow. That’s why I worked to put a measure on the ballot last year that has set aside $80 million to protect clean water by preventing groundwater contamination. While I believe our cap-and-trade dollars should be solely committed to reducing greenhouse gases – this is a public health emergency, not the time to bicker over funding mechanisms. Going forward, the legislature should double down on paying for clean water through the state’s general or rainy day fund; while also moving policies that incentivize local governments to be responsible partners in the fight to secure clean water for all.

Agriculture may get squeezed out of shrinking fund

James Gallagher - California State Assemblyman (R-Yuba City)

Avoiding a new water tax is news we can all celebrate. But I’m not sure tapping into the cap-and-trade pot was the right move. Funding to improve drinking water could have just as easily came from the state’s general fund, and the nexus to carbon emissions is nebulous. I am concerned that someday soon cap-and-trade funds won’t be readily available to address and fund programs that actually reduce carbon emissions like reducing fuel in our forests and helping farmers and manufacturers upgrade/retrofit equipment.

“There are many causes contributing to the unsafe water in communities across the state”

Ben Allen - California State Senator (D-Santa Monica)

The legislature just passed a major initiative to develop and fund a program that will help provide clean drinking water to more than a half million Californians who lack access to this basic necessity. There are many causes contributing to the unsafe water in communities across the state, including agricultural pesticides, naturally occurring pollutants, and failing infrastructure in wells and treatment systems. But there is another culprit exacerbating the drinking water crisis, and that is climate change.

Warmer temperatures and prolonged drought have devastated the Sierra snowpack, which has historically been the source of most of the state’s fresh drinking water. As snow levels diminish, groundwater tables are drawn down, making it easier for dangerous elements such as arsenic to contaminate the supply. The state must take steps to adapt to the changing climate, and if we do it right, these actions will improve the resiliency and cleanliness of drinking water systems. This includes funding restoration of Sierra meadows, wetlands, and forests to slow runoff; and investing in stormwater capture, water recycling, and water efficiency measures to increase local supplies. Each of these policies will help us adequately plan for the future, and secure clean water for all Californians.

Safe drinking water is finally within the reach of all Californians

Kate Gordon - Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research

California is the world’s fifth largest economy. And yet on any given day, more than one million Californians are left without the basic human right to water. Some have gone without safe water for more than a decade. This is especially true for isolated, rural communities that rely on small systems and domestic wells.

Without targeted investments in struggling systems, climate change will likely worsen the state’s water woes. The recent 2012-2016 drought and the following wet year of 2017 gave a glimpse of some of the threats on the horizon: water shortages and generally volatile water supplies, harmful algal blooms, wildfire damage to water systems, increases in arsenic and nitrates, saltwater intrusion, and more.

The state is committed to finding solutions, and to providing safe, affordable drinking water to all Californians especially in the face of a changing climate. The right solution depends on many factors, but one thing is clear: simply putting a new water system in place does not guarantee success. A comprehensive approach that recognizes the diversity of challenges is the path to water resilience.

It’s about the right mix of local and state actions

Dave Puglia - Executive Vice President of the Western Growers Association

It took longer than anyone wanted, but with the enactment of SB 200 (Monning) this month, California may have finally assembled the right tools to ensure that every resident of our state has safe and clean water. Several state bond measures and a federal water program are providing capital to fiscally-constrained local agencies for water infrastructure improvements, including water quality projects. SB 200 will ensure funding, without more tax and fee increases, for the ongoing operation and maintenance of safe drinking water projects. Finally, legislation enacted in 2015 authorizes the State Water Board to compel consolidation of smaller water districts struggling to provide clean water where voluntary consolidation or other partnership efforts have fallen short. Together, these solutions both protect and enhance the role of local water providers in delivering safe drinking water, while also carefully defining the State Water Board’s role in providing oversight and assistance.

California fails miserably in providing safe and clean drinking water in our state’s rural communities

V. John White - Co-Founder and Executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies

In an April executive order Governor Newsom challenged us to think differently to develop a comprehensive strategy to build a climate-resilient water system. Adequate water treatment is unaffordable in disadvantaged communities requiring billions of dollars of new investment. The Legislature should establish a permanent drinking water fund, from a small surcharge on all water users, to help to build water treatment systems across the state.

Overuse of groundwater makes it even harder to provide safe drinking to the disadvantaged communities of the Central Valley. State law now requires local water users to bring groundwater use to sustainable levels by the 2040s, requiring balancing water supplies and demands. This will require significant change in water use and management of farmland, including putting land coming out of production to good use, such large scale solar projects.

The State Water Project is facing billions in seismic repairs and deferred maintenance. But DWRs planning process includes little recognition of climate adaptation or the potential to integrate the SWP with the state’s clean energy plans. Modernizing the state’s water delivery infrastructure must include climate adaptation and clean energy goals. This is the type of thinking the Governor had in mind with his Executive Order.

“California should absolutely prioritize clean drinking water as a basic human right”

Danielle Osborn Mills - Director of the American Wind Energy Association of California and Principal of Renewable Energy Strategies

California should absolutely prioritize clean drinking water as a basic human right. Just as the availability of drinking water affects our ability to thrive and survive in this state, so do the impacts of climate change. The issues need not compete. The state must not relent in the critical transitions necessary to combat climate change within the next decade to prevent warming of more than 1.5 degrees. Many of the communities struggling to gain access to clean and affordable drinking water will be vulnerable to the impacts climate change; we need to provide economic and environmental solutions to ensure clean water and clean energy to everyone in the State.

Time to face California’s safe drinking water scandal

Michael Mantell - President of the Resources Legacy Fund

Few California urbanites grasp the intolerable, third-world conditions that nearly a million of their fellow Californians live in when it comes to accessing safe drinking water. That residents of a state with the fifth largest economy on the planet lack that access is nothing short of scandalous, as is the racial-ethnic undertone seen in the demographics of the California communities most often deprived of the safe drinking water that the state has formally declared a human right. Moreover, the long delay in supplying these communities with safe water from their taps amplifies the problem of greenhouse gas emissions as long as the interim solution is trucking in water in plastic bottles. The technology and know-how have long existed for providing safe drinking water to communities that lack it, so there is no excuse there but rather a lack of political will and funding. It is time for the interests that have done most to create this situation to help pay for its rapid resolution, alongside needed public funding from the state.

Safe water can’t wait on politics

Lea Ann Tratten - Partner at TrattenPrice Consulting

More than 1 million Californians go without clean drinking water each day - that means children go to bed in homes when they can’t even bathe, let alone drink the water. The heaviest burden of the toxic taps crisis has fallen on our most marginalized communities, communities of color and people with low-incomes. Though community advocates fought for decades to draw attention to the third-world conditions in our own state, California lacked the political will to clean up toxic taps until Governor Gavin Newsom declared it a priority on his first day in office.

Californians at risk from cancer, heart disease, infertility and other health conditions from their drinking water don’t have more time to wait for the perfect political solution. While the state general fund has a surplus this year, we need a stable secure funding source not just to fix contaminated systems once, but to keep systems in safety compliance. GGRF funds provide that stability.

While ensuring polluters pay for cleanup represented a fair solution, the recall of Senator Josh Newman two years ago looms large in the State Capitol building, an unfortunate development that threatens to foreclose solutions to other issues facing the most vulnerable Californians.

“It’s critical that lawmakers find a more appropriate source of funds to ensure clean water for all Californians”

Catherine Reheis-Boyd - President of the Western States Petroleum Association

Access to clean and safe drinking water is a fundamental human right and we applaud the administration and legislature for taking this matter seriously. We also share the sense of urgency many people feel in addressing climate change. The GGRF was specifically designed to support programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help our state meet its climate goals and safeguard our environment. As worthy as clean water initiatives are, we fear diverting GGRF funds for them may open the door to funding other non-climate projects, to the detriment of the overall cap-and-trade program. It’s critical that lawmakers find a more appropriate source of funds to ensure clean water for all Californians.

“Once again they’ve proven why many voters are cynical about politician”

Rob Stutzman - Founder and President of Stutzman Public Affairs

It was only a matter of time before legislators and a governor were not going to be able to help themselves to merely grab money from the Cap and Trade auction dollars and treat it like a slush fund to solve a thorny problem. But I’m not sure anyone thought it would happen this quickly. To be clear, they have broken faith with Californians. We were all told the revenue from Cap and Trade (which is really a tax on carbon) would be used for related climate change and air quality issues. Once again they’ve proven why many voters are cynical about politicians when they’re moving their lips.

“Providing all Californians with safe and clean water should be a top priority”

Kristin Olsen - Stanislaus County Supervisor

The challenge of providing clean drinking water becomes increasingly difficult as the standard gets ever higher. The water that many of us grew up drinking would be considered unsafe today. Nevertheless, providing all Californians with safe and clean water should be a top priority. In an era of budget surplus, I see no reason it shouldn’t be built into the State General Fund as an ongoing expense and core function of government. The State should also be more flexible in approving affordable solutions, rather than perfect solutions, including the use of bottled water as we work toward a more comprehensive system.

Dan Schnur, a veteran analyst and longtime participant in California politics, is director of the California Influencers series for McClatchy.
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