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Op-Ed: Protecting California’s clean waters

October 4, 2019
In The News

Water is life. It is essential to the survival of all living things and has been at the center of my work for over three decades as a public servant. I did not select this cause arbitrarily, but because our communities were suffering, and no one was speaking out about safe, clean water supplies for residents of the San Gabriel Valley and greater east Los Angeles County.

I saw it early on as a Norwalk city councilwoman in the late 1980s. Cities were left to their own devices — out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) purview — while medicine, what we now know are dangerous opioids, and other contaminants piled up in our local water supply. I saw it when I was in the Assembly, representing a school that had rust-colored water spurting out of its drinking fountains. Tests confirmed that kids could drink it because it “wasn’t contaminated, just discolored.” But I’ve never forgotten it, and I won’t stop fighting until it’s not happening anymore.

There should be no “acceptable” amount of risk we’re willing to take when it comes to water quality or the health of our children and families. From Los Angeles to Sacramento to Washington, D.C. — in all the places I’ve worked — this belief has fueled my desire to fight for clean and safe water in our communities.

That is why I am infuriated by President Trump’s recent action to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Act Rule. This eliminates vital protections, disregards science and places the burden of cleaning up our water before it gets to the tap on our state, water agencies, and ultimately local taxpayers. It’s costly, stupid and wrong.

In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that establishes the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, and I am happy we are taking steps to make this a priority. Starting next year, this fund will provide $130 million to clean up drinking water systems, like the infrastructure that’s been aging in the San Gabriel Valley and many other communities. But there’s a catch — the money will come from California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which was created to combat carbon emissions.

So the state is taking money away from clean-air efforts in low-income communities and putting it toward clean water efforts in those same communities. To truly deliver environmental justice for all Californians, our state must prioritize solutions that don’t force them to choose between clean air and clean water. We can and should do both!

Our state’s drinking water in many areas is toxic and a grave environmental injustice — about 400 schools have lead contamination in their drinking water systems and roughly 300 public water systems aren’t in compliance with drinking water standards. More than 1 million people in California don’t have access to clean, safe and affordable drinking waters.

I have coauthored HR1497, the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act, to provide $20 billion in loans and $3.5 billion in grants to fund clean water, drinking water, and environmental cleanup projects at the local level. As chairwoman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, I look forward to passing this bill soon out of committee and crafting the next Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). I have already begun working with both my Republican and Democratic colleagues to identify water infrastructure projects throughout our nation to be included in WRDA 2020, which will authorize at least $2.6 billion for our communities. Our constituents deserve clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, and we will continue to work together to protect these essentials.