“Right to Water” Bill Awaits Action on Senate Floor

ACWA-opposed legislation aimed at codifying a “right to water” has cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee and is awaiting action on the Senate floor.

 AB 685 (Eng) would declare that it is the policy of the state that every human has the right to clean, affordable, and accessible water.

ACWA believes the bill, though seemingly well intended, is unnecessary and duplicative. California Water Code Section 106, established in 1913, is already a fundamental cornerstone of the water rights system in this state. It declares that the use of water for domestic purposes is the highest use of water, and it would appear unnecessary to make any modification to further amplify this existing domestic preference policy.

Moreover, creating a new “right to water” in California law could potentially upset decades of legal precedent and have major budget implications for public water agencies at a time when local budgets are already stretched. It could also negatively affect the ability of water agencies to provide safe, clean and affordable water to all their customers.

In addition, ACWA and others believe the bill could lead to extensive litigation to define what a “human right to water” entails. Citing concerns with potential costs, the Senate Appropriations Committee requested an amendment that would exempt the state from any legal liability. The committee noted that the state might be liable for the cost of providing safe drinking water should the law be interpreted as creating an enforceable right. Recent amendments exempt the state from liability but leave local agencies exposed to costly litigation.

ACWA has been working with a coalition to explain these concerns to the author. The coalition has offered amendments on multiple occasions that would improve the bill, while still preserving the original stated intent of the legislation.  However, the coalition and the bill’s sponsors have been unable to reach an agreement.

If approved on the Senate floor, AB 685 would return to the Assembly for concurrence in Senate amendments. From there, the bill would go to the governor’s desk for signature or veto.

ACWA is urging member agencies to send letters opposing AB 685 to members of the Senate in their service areas.

Please see ACWA’s alert  on the bill for further details.