By Elizabeth Zach, RCAC staff writer

SB 623 supporters at the CA CapitolCalifornia is the world’s sixth largest economy, and yet some 300 of the state’s communities lack access to safe and affordable drinking water. A coalition of clean water advocates and legislators want to change that by passing a law that would create a new Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund.

Years in the making, Senate Bill 623 was heard by the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, August 23. The same day, at a gathering on the east steps of the California capitol building in Sacramento, residents from the state’s Central Valley held signs denoting their rural communities of Arvin, Visalia, Lanare, Plainview, West Goshen, Tooleville and others. They, along with several lawmakers, cheered for the bill’s passage while noting that more than one million Californians are exposed each year to unsafe water.

“We are not Flint, Michigan,” State Sen. Robert Hertzberg, who represents the San Fernando Valley, told the crowd. “And we’re not talking about a water tax with this bill. This is historic legislation.”

The proposed law has brought some unlikely partners together, including from agriculture and environmental justice advocates. If passed, SB 623 would require Californians to pay less than a dollar on their monthly water bill toward the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. The fee would generate $2 billion over 15 years to pay for the ongoing costs of treating water to meet state and federal health standards in communities where water pollution hits the hardest.

The Assembly Appropriations committee must decide by September 1 whether to move the bill to the Assembly floor for a vote. If it passes there, it must receive a 2/3 vote from each house before being sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.