If Gov. Brown wants a legacy, he must follow through on clean water

If Gov. Brown wants a legacy, he must follow through on clean water

While Gov. Jerry Brown is busy trying to secure his legacy with the Delta tunnels and high-speed rail, he appears to have abandoned one of the most important tasks of his career: Making sure all Californians have clean drinking water.

This is a huge issue in the San Joaquin Valley (the “other” California) where thousands of mostly poor families can’t drink their own water. Tulare County, where I live, was the epicenter of failing water systems during the drought so I know how difficult it is to get help. There is no ongoing funding – local, state or federal – for these systems.

I suppose I should be used to the Valley’s second-hand treatment by Brown and most of the rest of the Legislature. We’re admittedly a small political voice compared to the Bay Area and Los Angeles, making us a perennial wallflower at the dollar dance in Sacramento.

But I thought we would get action for our families this time around. The state has proclaimed clean drinking water is a basic human right. A coalition of agriculture, environmental justice groups and others spent two years hammering out the Safe, Affordable Drinking Water Act, which would have added a small tax to customer bills, plus fees to fertilizer and dairy operations, to generate $140 million a year to fix water systems.

And Brown promised he was absolutely committed to the bill. Yet, he let it slip away in the budget deal-making process.

Legislators apparently feared the anti-tax backlash suffered by Sen. Josh Newman, who was recalled in his Orange County district in June for his support of last year’s gas tax increase. Clean drinking water for thousands of valley families took a back seat to politics.

A handful of legislators say they will continue discussions but it will clearly take the power and will of the governor to push them to a solution. The political reality is that Brown has a few days in July, then a few weeks between the end of August and September to get something done. I can only hope he’s not too busy building his legacy to solve this ongoing crisis in the “other” California.

Steve Nelsen is a Visalia City Council member and advocacy co-chairman of BizFed Central Valley. He can be contacted at stevenelsenvisalia@gmail.com.