Assemblyman Gray criticizes water board, says Delta-Bay Plan hurts struggling communities

Friday, April 12, 2019

Assemblyman Gray criticizes water board, says Delta-Bay Plan hurts struggling communities

About 80,000 people in Merced and Stanislaus counties can't drink water from their tap without risking their health, according to clean water advocates who spoke on Friday, May 11, 2018. BY THADDEUS MILLER

After the state Water Resources Control Board said its Delta-Bay Plan would not have “significant” effect on the drinking water of disadvantaged communities Assemblymember Adam C. Gray, D-Merced, blasted the board members for what he said was their lack of concern for impoverished and minority communities.

Gray recently introduced Assembly Bill 637, which requires the board to identify disadvantaged communities and mitigate impacts to the drinking water supplies serving those communities. The bill also requires the board to hold public hearings in or near those communities.

“It should be the rule – not the exception – that impacted communities are able to make their voices heard,” Gray said on Wednesday.

The water board did not immediately return requests for comment.

There are 17 communities in the 21st Assembly district where wells have recently tested positive for harmful toxins. About 80,000 people in Merced and Stanislaus counties can’t drink water from their tap without risking their health, according to clean water advocates.

They draw those numbers from records provided by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The Delta-Bay Plan requires water entities including the Modesto, Turlock, Oakdale and Merced irrigation districts to sacrifice 40 percent unimpaired river flows, allowing it to go to the San Francisco Bay Area from February through June. That leaves less water for agriculture and city water customers in the Central San Joaquin Valley.

Sending that water would have an adverse effect in areas that already struggle with water quality, Gray said. He argued the board should follow the same rules as the federal government.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton issued an executive order prohibiting federal agencies from discriminating against and ignoring impacts to low income and minority communities.

“Any rational person would agree that advancing a plan which devastates impoverished neighborhoods, degrades drinking water, and openly ignores impacts to some of the most vulnerable communities in the state should be against the law – but the Water Board is not rational,” Gray said.

In many communities, people drink, shower, cook and wash dishes with water containing excessive amounts of pollutants, including arsenic, nitrates and uranium.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has favored voluntary agreements with water districts to improve delta water quality. Former-Gov. Jerry Brown looked at a drinking water tax during his last year in office.

The Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, which advocates for underprivileged communities, said Thursday they were encouraged by Gray’s effort to protect impoverished communities.

“We welcome his leadership to pass a safe, affordable drinking water fund this year, which will help all Californians, whether they are part of a water system or use private wells,” the statement said.