Water is Life

California passed a unique statute in 2012 declaring access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation to be a human right. This measure was necessary given that a potential 39 million people in the state lack access to safe drinking water or sanitation. Five years after the passage of the statute, the results show that meaningful action on access to drinking water is feasible at the state level. More importantly, meaningful action must be taken in other states to ensure that all residents in the country have access to safe water.

The passage of the statute resulted in numerous changes in the state’s water policy that are slowly improving access to water and sanitation for Californians. The first of these changes is the creation of the State Water Resources Control Board maintains sole responsibility for access to safe drinking water and has the legal authority to enforce its decisions. This allows for rapid assessment of issues pertaining to water quality and creates multiple tools addressing issues. One of these tools is increased water infrastructure projects in low-income communities and increased inclusion in water management decision-making.

Infrastructure is vital to any effort aiming to increase access to safe water and sanitation, but having a more inclusive decision-making process ensures that traditionally marginalized communities contribute to developing solutions going forward. Granting these marginalized communities a say in the decision-making process also ensures that environmental injustices are not perpetrated without objection and consultation of the communities likely to suffer harm.

For other ways in which the 2012 statute is changing California’s water paradigm and for brief history explaining California’s water problem, read here.