Alhambra’s tap water is safe to drink, but it may not be in the future. The San Gabriel basin is actually contaminated, and the complicated process that makes it clean needs to be taken seriously. This is one reason Assemblyman Mike Eng has been championing state legislation that would legislate clean drinking water as a human right.
In 2002 several water agencies, along with the EPA, agreed to pay $200 million to clean up the basin over the course of 15 years. But Eng does not believe this is adequate for his constituents and the rest of the San Gabriel Valley, and is concerned that the cost to filter harmful substances could rise. “Though there are efforts to clean up the basin, it will take a lot more work and resources to complete the cleanup,” Eng said.
Eng is a lead sponsor of a package that would ensure clean drinking water not only for San Gabriel residents, but for all California residents. The legislation would require agencies to notify communities about water contamination using the languages spoken by residents. The legislation would also send state funds to underprivileged communities for contamination clean up, and update the water code to include clean water as a top priority for all relevant agencies.
Eng is the sole sponsor from Southern California of the legislation. Much of the debate over water management has been focused on the Central Valley, where impoverished communities often do not have access to safe water. But Eng makes the argument that local residents in Alhambra should share the concerns of the Central Valley where water rights are privatized, and that if action is not taken, water in the San Gabriel Valley could become contaminated as well.
“This will not only benefit my constituents, it will benefit people throughout the state, like the 250,000 people in the Central Valley alone who currently do not have access to clean drinking water,” Eng said.
Parts of the West San Gabriel Valley are located above a Superfund site, along with Alhambra, Temple City and San Marino, according to the Environmental Protection Society. Other parts of the San Gabriel basin are contaminated with rocket fuel from the 1950s.While Eng’s focus on the San Gabriel Valley Basin is a rare voice in Sacramento, the push for water legislation is not new. For years policymakers have considered bills that would overhaul water regulations, but to little effect.“The solutions included in the human right to water package address long standing planning problems that led to this disparity,” said Miriam Torres, Southern California programs director for the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water. “A large number of low-income communities fall through the cracks when it comes to clean water. This policy is the first step in planning a framework for agencies.”
But some argue that the wording on Eng’s bill is too open to interpretation. The California Water Association, Western Growers and the California Chamber of Commerce have all voiced opposition. “The language is very unclear,” said Robert Martin, general manager of East Valley Water District in the Central Valley. As the communities in the desert area are billed for their water, Martin is concerned that clean water as a human right means that water will be free to everyone. “We operate on monthly payments, if a person is entitled to clean water, does that mean they don’t have to pay?”Though former Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year, Eng is optimistic about this year’s pitch. The bill has passed the Assembly and is pending approval from the Senate Rules Committee.“The package of bills is more cohesive and focused,” Eng said. “The political atmosphere in California has changed.”
Further updates on Assemblyman Eng's Clean Water Bill, as well as the 5 other bills included in the Clean Water Package can be found here.