Water: A human right?

A bill by state Assemblyman Mike Eng, a democrat from Southern California, declared that every human being has the right to clean, affordable and accessible water.

But the bill, AB 685, died in Senate Appropriations late last week. Supporters plan a protest on Wednesday.

Water districts across the state, including Stockton East, opposed the legislation.


In a letter, Stockton East called Eng’s bill “unnecessary and duplicative.” California law already says that the highest use of water is for domestic purposes; narrowing that down to ensuring an “affordable” water supply under the law could be costly.

Here’s what state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, had to say about it in a committee hearing in July:

“My concern about this is that our country was founded on the idea our rights consist of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I hear a lot of talk these days about right to other things — health care, right to water, right to food. When someone has the right to something somebody else produces, that takes away the right of somebody that has to produce it. Their time, their sweat, their effort, is now mandated by government to be given to someone else.

“This seems to be a very dangerous issue toward the rights of water holders who have built the infrastructure, who work on the infrastructure of delivering water for their needs and for others, that someone can come in and basically assert a right that they have no skin in the game other than they are a resident of that particular area.”

Seems like that “right to life” cited by LaMalfa would inherently include a right to water. One kind of goes with the other.

Still, state agencies under this bill would be required to consider the new state policy when awarding grants or adopting new regulations. And one agency, the state Department of Public Health, estimated that it could cost $150,000 to review its rules, and an unknown amount of money to ensure access to drinking water.

In an analysis of the bill, the Association of California Water Agencies is quoted as questioning whether a customer who fails to pay his water bill can be legally disconnected if the law gives him a right to water. Or, perhaps, will other customers end up subsidizing his bill?

Sure as the tap flows, we haven’t heard the last on this issue.

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  • Blog Author

    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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