“Right to Water” Bill Heads to Governor

Legislation aimed at codifying a “right to water” cleared its final legislative hurdle Aug. 29 and is headed for the governor’s desk.

ACWA-opposed 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. It was approved by the full Senate on a 22-16 vote and returned to the Assembly for concurrence in Senate amendments. The Assembly voted to concur on Aug. 29.

ACWA and other opponents say AB 685, 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.

ACWA has been working with a coalition to offer amendments to address these concerns. However, the coalition and the bill’s sponsors were unable to reach an agreement.