In the last few years we, along with so many others who together created a movement for water justice, drove thousands of miles, attended countless meetings with elected officials and their staffs, testified before dozens of committees, told our stories to media outlets and reporters from across the state and the nation, and encouraged our friends and families to keep fighting a battle that at times seemed hopeless. Through it all we remained thirsty for justice.
In 2019, at long last, justice was finally achieved; it was secured through the combined power of the people and allies who said it was finally time to bring safe water to all Californians. On July 24, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that will make sure all Californians have access to safe, affordable drinking water. Of course, real change also requires courage from our elected leaders. We thank Senator Bill Monning, who made his office a welcoming space for our communities, for his tireless work to pass the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. We also thank Gov. Newsom, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, Assemblymembers Eduardo Garcia and Richard Bloom, and the many other supporters who joined hands together in partnership with environmental justice organizations and community leaders to make history. We are proud that leadership from our homes, neighborhoods and community centers led to this historic moment in our state.
We each had our own words to tell a shared story: we work and pay taxes, we nurture our families and communities, we contribute to the culture and economy of California, yet the water coming from our taps is toxic. How can this be in California—a state that prides itself on its commitment to the environment and its people?
We deserve—as all Californians deserve—to be able to use the water from our taps without fear. So we called upon our elected officials to act: to create a safe, affordable drinking water fund that is dependable, long-term and comprehensive, so that none of our neighbors are excluded from the promise of safe water.
It took us years to be heard, but we got stronger and louder as we found more and more allies to build a movement powerful enough and broad enough to see legislation introduced that would create a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. In 2017 we brought our message, our experiences, and our commitment to Sacramento in support of the fund, but the legislation failed. Same thing in 2018. We made progress, but it wasn’t enough. There were weeks—even months –when success seemed impossible. But we knew that the only thing that guarantees failure is to not even try at all, and each year we gathered more support.
We were unwilling to quit, and our persistence paid off. We believe this victory was secured by the direct advocacy, over the course of years and decades, of impacted communities themselves, which demonstrates the power of people to change the trajectory of their society towards a place of greater fairness. This is what democracy should look like and sound like: people from communities across the state coming together to demand that politicians listen and take action.
We now urge the state to set an ambitious target and timeline for implementation of the fund, one that reflects the continued urgency of our state’s drinking water crisis: that all communities without safe water today will have safe and affordable drinking water projects either secured or in progress by 2025—and as part of the implementation process, that communities have a fair and equal seat at the table and an equal voice in the decision-making process.
We are just three voices representing the many Californians who decided to make a difference. And succeeded. With this community-powered victory behind us and the resources finally secured, it’s now time to get to the real work of making the dream of clean drinking water a reality for all Californians.
Authors: Julia Mendoza, Cantua Creek; Lucy Hernandez, West Goshen; Horacio Amezquita, San Jerardo Cooperative (Salinas area).