Joaquin Esquivel, a State Water Board Member, came over to the Chamber the other day to chat with us about the Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Act established through AB 401 (Dodd, 2015). It directs the Water Board to come up with a plan on how to make drinking water affordable for low-income residents of the state by January 1, 2018 and report to the Legislature by February 1, 2018 on its findings regarding the feasibility, financial stability, and desired structure for a program plus any recommendations for legislative action. They missed the deadline. Might be available at the end of the year.
It’s harder than anyone thought. Water prices have been rising steadily, not only as a result of the drought, but because the water infrastructure itself (pipes and whatnot) are very old and have come to the end of their useful lifespan. Esquivel mentioned a report by the Michigan State University that says within five years nearly 36 percent of U.S. households will be unable to afford water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that spending on water and wastewater services should make up no more than 4.5 percent of household income. Given the high cost of living in California, unaffordability may come in less than five years.
The Water Board is looking at existing programs for low income residents like the CARE program in energy, lifeline rates offered by phone companies, and assistance programs run by private water companies under the CPUC. Finding funding for assistance programs is challenging. More water storage would help alleviate some of the high cost of water, but that is a conversation for another time.