SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California homeowners may soon pay a first-of-its-kind drinking water tax under a recently amended bill aimed at clearing the state’s water supply of pollutants like lead, arsenic and nitrates.
The proposal, which has garnered support from farmers and environmentalists, would increase annual household water bills by $11.40 to fund water infrastructure improvements on approximately 300 failing water systems, many in rural areas.
Senate bill 623 by state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Monterey, also calls for new polluter fees on farms and dairies that will go toward cleaning up and preventing groundwater contamination.
Monning testified Wednesday during an Assembly committee hearing that an estimated 1 million Californians are exposed to contaminants at the tap, proof that the state is facing a “drinking water crisis.” He estimates that the bill would generate $140 million per year.
“This legislation reflects a historic and significant achievement,” Monning said of bringing farmers and environmentalists to the bargaining table. “SB 623 will provide the assurance that finally, all Californians will have access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water.”
Monning amended his proposal Monday to include the monthly 95-cent tax and fees for farmers. It cleared the Senate prior to the amendments but was placed on the suspense file Wednesday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where it must be voted on by Sept. 1.
Groups testifying in support of the measure included the California Rice Commission, the Western Growers Association, the California Fresh Fruit Association, NextGen, and Clean Water Action.
Thus far, supporters have not been able to sway skeptical state water suppliers in favor of the new tax.
Water agencies argued money for clean water should come from the state’s general fund and that SB 623 would turn them into tax collectors for the state. They added they were left out of the negotiations and that the measure should face more public scrutiny, not rushed through the last month of the legislative session.
The water bill was heard just three days after Monning’s additions.
“Proponents say they have been negotiating for months, but the tax was amended to this bill just this past Monday and has been through no policy hearings,” testified Cindy Tuck, a director with the Association of California Water Agencies. “An issue of this magnitude needs to be fully debated in a thorough and transparent process.”
Because it creates a new tax, SB 623 will need to secure a two-thirds vote in each house. The bill also includes exemptions for low-income households.