State Legislators to Vote on First Ever Water Tax

Created: 31 May, 2018
Last update: 27 July, 2022

By Ana Gomez Salcido

For the first time ever, Californians would pay a tax on drinking water if Senate Bill 623 (SB 623), which aims to secure access to safe drinking water for all Californians, is approved.

This bill would establish the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund in the State Treasury to secure access to safe drinking water for all Californians, while also ensuring the long-term sustainability of drinking water service and infrastructure.

If the SB 623 passes, support of the Fund will come from a fertilizer mill fee, a fee on dairies, and a fee assessed on water bills of no more than one dollar a month per household, and is anticipated to generate $140 million a year.

“While I continue to work with a broad-based coalition of supporters on the enactment of my Senate Bill (SB 623), I know we all applaud the governor’s support for the communities throughout California that do not have access to safe drinking water,” said State Senator Bill Monning, who introduced SB 623. “These Californians deserve better, and I will continue to urge my colleagues in the Legislature to work together with the governor to finally achieve the guarantee of safe and affordable drinking water to all Californians.”

The tax proposal is being advanced through SB 623 and a Brown Administration budget trailer bill related to safe drinking water. The drinking water tax would help provide clean, safe water in disadvantaged communities, mostly in the Central and Salinas valleys, where farming operations has contaminated groundwater. State legislators are expected to vote on the tax by mid-June, through the issue could extend into late summer.

Several environmental and farming groups support the bill, while water districts oppose to it, including the San Diego County Water Authority.

“It would be the camel’s nose under the tent; what begins as a modest increase could quickly grow larger and larger as more projects and programs try to get into the tent,” said Encinitas City Councilmember Mark Muir, chair of the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors and a member of the San Dieguito Water District Board. “We’ve already seen proposals in Sacramento that could add more than $15 a month to residential water bills.”

During a news conference held last week at the County Administration Center, regional leaders offered other funding solutions to improve water quality in poor, rural areas of California without adding another tax burden to residents in one of the nation’s most expensive states.

The solutions include making polluters pay for groundwater cleanup, creating a trust fund from state budget surpluses, and more.

“The water tax violates a core tenet of pollution cleanup policy: polluter pays,” said Haney Hong, president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. “Why not collect more revenue from the actual polluters rather than all consumers? It doesn’t make sense to place a disproportionate responsibility on ratepayers to clean up groundwater contamination caused by others.”

In the local effort to oppose SB 623, more than 30 agencies and organizations have signed a letter to legislative leaders opposing the drinking water tax plan.