In addition to its individual comment letter on the draft Safe Drinking Water Plan for California (the Plan), the California Water Association (CWA) joined with the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), the California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA) and the California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association (AWWA Cal-Nevada) (collectively, the Parties) in a joint letter to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) that focused on two issues:

  1. The Plan’s recommendation for legislation that mandates the annexation of a small public water system by a neighboring larger water system;
  2. The Plan’s recommendation for a water usage fee as a long-term funding source for safe drinking water for disadvantaged communities.

The joint letter specifically requested these two recommendations be removed from the Plan and its implementation. With respect to the annexation mandate, the Parties noted the annexation mandate does not address the legal, financial and technical barriers to consolidation that currently exist, not the least of which is that many small systems are well-managed and sustainable and do not warrant a blanket mandate for annexation. The joint letter noted that the SWRCB should address a strategy to remove barriers to consolidation rather than a mandate to take over smaller systems.

The joint letter also noted that the water usage fee is actually a tax, which would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature – not an insignificant hurdle. Worse, such a tax would be regressive in nature by imposing a greater burden on low-income customers. The Parties, instead, encouraged the SWRCB “to engage stakeholders in discussions to identify viable, stable, long-term funding sources.”

CWA’s comment letter on the Plan went into more detail on both recommendations, noting on the first recommendation that a mandate to acquire small investor-owned water utilities would run afoul of eminent domain laws requiring compensation for the taking of private property. Further, acquiring a troubled small system could easily require substantial infrastructure improvements; yet, the Plan was silent on whether these costs should be absorbed by existing customers, subsidized by the acquiring utility’s customers or, more broadly, by taxpayers.

The joint letter was signed by Timothy Quinn, ACWA Executive Director, Danielle Blacet, CMUA Director for Water, Timothy Worley, AWWA Cal-Nevada Executive Director, and Jack Hawks, CWA Executive Director.

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