The right to clean water

Now that it’s a right, what’s the plan?

It’s natural for those of us who live in this part of the state to assume that all Californians enjoy clean drinking water, just as we do. But that’s simply not the case, which is why the State Legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed AB 685, the Human Right to Water measure. It’s part of a package of laws passed and signed since 2011 that codify the public’s right to have access to clean water.

In August 2010 the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water, Catarina de Albuquerque, issued a report citing a host of alarming clean-drinking-water shortages in California, most of them in the poorest areas of the San Joaquin Valley. The report noted that more than 250,000 families were reliant for drinking water on shallow wells contaminated by agricultural-chemical toxins. Many of them were spending as much as 20 percent of their meager incomes to purchase bottled water.

Calling passage of the bill an “inspiring example” for governments everywhere, de Albuquerque noted that with the new law, water and sanitation will be placed at the center of public-policy formulation to ensure that all people in California have access to affordable, accessible, acceptable and safe water and sanitation in sufficient amounts to protect their health and dignity.

It’s one thing to establish a policy and quite another to put it in action, however. Getting clean water to those without it will take work and cost money. Now that people have a legal right to clean water, it will be up to water providers and state and local governments to come up with a comprehensive plan for making it accessible and to set up a special fund for that purpose.