The proposal to replace California Department of Public Health as guardian for the state’s drinking water quietly slipped away last week, dying in a committee. Assembly Bill 145 didn’t even come to a vote in the state Senate.
Drinking water advocates and many people living in small San Joaquin Valley towns are disappointed over the failure of the bill, which never came out of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
AB 145, introduced by Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, would have moved the Drinking Water Program responsibilities to the State Water Resources Control Board, an enforcement agency that already deals with dirty water throughout the state.
The California Department of Public Health administers the program that is known in the Valley as a foot-dragging bureaucracy.
But the agency had support from larger California cities and the Association of California Water Agencies. The water association said the water program works well in many places and needed a more “targeted approach” to solve problems. Their opposition to AB 145 had been clear in the last few months.
Thousands of residents in poor Valley communities have suffered with tainted water as their towns waded through years of bureaucratic red tape at the department of public health.
For those residents, this was like another rebuff on a technicality, say advocates.
“This bill was a game-changer that would have had long-term benefits for communities that are ignored under the current system,” said Maria Herrera, community advocate for the Visalia-based Community Water Center.
Under the Department of Public Health, funding applications for feasibility studies take years. This year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency demanded a spending plan for $455 million of unused federal money entrusted to the department.
Public health officials responded with a spending plan, saying they are streamlining their efforts to move faster.