Gov. Jerry Brown has some explaining to do about his repeated promises to bring clean, safe drinking water to people in California's rural communities.
The state is sitting on a big pile of federal money -- $455 million -- designated for safe drinking water. Yet residents of small towns in the San Joaquin Valley, as well as other parts of the state, still must buy bottled water because the gunk coming from their taps is dirty, smelly or unhealthy.
Widespread awareness of the problem isn't recent. The Fresno Bee published a series of stories two years ago about the dire need for clean drinking water systems in impoverished communities such as Kettleman City in Kings County and Seville in Tulare County. It also documented how the state's bureaucratic maze frustrated efforts to build or repair water systems.
Moreover, Brown promised during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign to secure federal support "to provide financial assistance to low-income communities, especially in rural areas, to upgrade water treatment facilities and protect water quality." In September, the governor signed legislation establishing a state policy that every Californian has a human right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible drinking water.
Brown's signature on Assembly Bill 685 earned him attaboys from social activists and public health advocates and widespread positive media attention. But where, governor, is the clean drinking water? The state's efforts have been so inept that federal officials are calling Brown's administration out and threatening to yank funding. Simply put, the feds have no idea what the state is doing with the money. Friday, it was learned that the Environmental Protection Agency is giving the state 60 days to submit a corrective plan.
"We certainly hear from the communities that they need the money and they are not being able to access it," said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA regional administrator. "The facts speak for themselves. The money is not going out the door as quickly as it should be."
The shame of it is, a fraction of that $455 million could fix the problem in valley towns such as Monson, where residents are receiving safe drinking water from the tap thanks to the generosity of Rotary Clubs. The Rotarians are paying for filters in the homes of Monson's 200 residents.
As reported by McClatchy Newspapers, some towns need to drill new wells, others must replace bad pipes and still others are trying to turn off well pumps and switch to river water.
Unfortunately, almost every time one of these communities takes a step forward, state bureaucrats throw more forms at them and order residents two steps back.
Fix the problem, governor. We're tired of your empty promises on clean, safe drinking water.