California must prioritize clean drinking water for all

Silicon Valley companies are known for their innovation and creativity; from the development of laptops and smart phones that make people more productive, to the zero-emission vehicles that will reduce air pollution, and the apps that keep us all connected. Sadly, not everything produced in the Golden State is a source of pride; namely cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and birth defects caused by contaminants in our state’s water – which affects approximately 1 million Californians.

Too often considered a problem confined to the Central Valley and agricultural communities, the fact is that lack of access to safe, clean drinking water in school water fountains and home faucets affects every region of our state. As a result, too many of our state’s residents face health threats from toxic taps. This is a situation Gov. Gavin Newsom has rightly called a “disgrace” and has made it a priority to fix the crisis. In this life-saving endeavor, he has the support of Silicon Valley’s most innovative companies.

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents much of the innovation economy, has prioritized this issue. A public health crisis affecting 1 million Californians is a workforce crisis for our business leaders. Companies recruit top talent at every level. Not one of their innovative and hard-working team members should go to work worried about their children ingesting unsafe levels of lead from a cafeteria sink or schoolyard fountain. Yet that’s the sad reality faced by school children across our state – including right here in San Francisco, Oakland, and in Fremont, Castro Valley, and Hayward.

In 2016, our Bay Area Sen. Bob Wieckowski authored SB 1263 – legislation to protect the human right to water by limiting the proliferation of unsafe water systems that pose the greatest risk to our communities. It’s time to build upon that achievement and fix the drinking water systems that are still a threat, so that every Californian can count on safe, clean drinking water.

Newsom has called for a dedicated Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to invest in upgrading failing water systems across the state, and, importantly, ensure these systems are monitored and safely maintained going forward. Legislative leaders in Sacramento have also signaled their support. This proposal would be an investment that saves lives.

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group supported the fund last year after careful consideration of other funding alternatives. We have concluded that the investment – less than one dollar per month on the average water bill – is the best way to guarantee safe water for children and vulnerable communities across the state.

Another proposal would seek to create a trust fund by accessing one time state surplus dollars, which could go to address other issues. However, this proposal would not come close to generating the amount of funding needed to address this urgent issue on an ongoing basis. Meanwhile, the small fee proposed by the governor that would make all Californians part of the safe drinking water solution is supported by two-thirds of Californians surveyed.

The governor’s proposed Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund is an investment in California’s future. Our businesses and communities can’t thrive without access to safe water. What’s needed is a dedicated, protected revenue source. Now is the time to act.

– Mike Mielke, Senior Vice President, Energy & Environment , Silicon Valley Leadership Group | April 30, 2019