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Health responsibility could transfer to water board

Proposed law a response to languishing water cleanup funds

Posted: August 19, 2013 5:45 p.m.
Updated: August 19, 2013 5:45 p.m.
 

SANTA CLARITA - A water bill moving swiftly through the Legislature would transfer responsibility for the state’s drinking water program from the Department of Public Health to the State Water Resources Control Board.

The Senate Appropriations Committee gave the green light to Assembly Bill 145 last week. The bill is now waiting for consideration by the full Senate, having already passed the Assembly.

Supporters of the bill say the state Health Department has been sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Environmental Protection Agency funding for the state to clean up contaminated drinking water, Many small California towns, most of them in the San Joaquin Valley, have contaminated tap water.

Some 2 million people are affected by the situation, officials say.

Since the Health Department hasn’t moved on the issue, supporters of AB 145 believe the funds should be handed to the State Water Resources Control Board for distribution.

“Moving jurisdiction to the state water board will allow for more efficient and effective policy creation, greater accountability and the ability to get funding out the door faster to communities that need it most,” said Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, who authored the bill.

“AB 145 will also allow the state to better manage and protect our water resources and to meet the impacts of climate change, population growth and economic growth,” he said in an email.

But opposition to the bill is widespread, including from the Castaic Lake Water Agency, which delivers about 50 percent of the water to the Santa Clarita Valley.

The Association of California Water Agencies argue that transferring the entire drinking water program to the state board would potentially weaken planning and response to waterborne disease outbreaks and hinder collaboration among members of the epidemiological community, both within the Department of Public Health and at local health departments.

The law would shift all regulatory and funding responsibilities for state water away from the Public Health Department.

Expecting a state board that manages water according to the California Water Code to also manage water according to public health standards could undermine the program’s public health focus, according to the state water agencies, and force it to compete with other critical priorities before the state water board, such as contamination issues that don’t affect public health.

There are “myriad complex water rights issues that the state board is already required to address as part of its existing mandate — issues that typically take years to resolve,” said Dan Masnada, general manager for the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

If the impetus for AB 145 is to ensure prompt funding for communities in need, then the bill should confine itself to that issue, say its opponents.

If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, AB 145 would become law.

jholt@signalscv.com
661-287-5527
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt

 

 

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