This month I want to share with you some interesting State legislative news related to water:
SB 332: Local Water Reliability Act (Introduced 2019)
Did you know that statewide, about 400 billion gallons of treated effluent water thrown away every year? That's 1.1 billion gallons a day! Just imagine if more communities developed programs and projects to recycle water for irrigation or for purification - statewide we'd dramatically increase water resiliency and security.
State Senate Bill (SB) 332 was introduced in the legislature in February by Senator Hertzberg and Senator Wiener and is aimed at increasing beneficial reuse of water and reducing the amount of treated effluent discharged into the ocean each year.
SB 332 would require wastewater treatment facilities to cut the annual volume of treated wastewater discharged into the ocean by 50% by 2030, and 95% by 2040.
Locally, the Pure Water Soquel Project (Project) could help our region take steps to achieve reduction goals, such as those in SB332. The Project will take about 25% of the treated wastewater from the Santa Cruz Wastewater Treatment Facility, which is otherwise pumped out into the ocean, and purify it for replenishing the Mid-County groundwater supply and creating a seawater intrusion barrier. This will increase our local water supply, protect our groundwater supply from seawater contamination, and benefit the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary by reducing the amount of treated water pumped into the ocean.
Throughout the State, the water that is currently being used as 'single-use' and discarded out to the ocean could be used for many purposes including: landscape and agricultural irrigation, surface water augmentation, and groundwater recharge. SB 332 represents a fundamental rethinking of the State's water policy with a view toward sustainability for the long term. Others in California, most notably Orange County, have been purifying already treated wastewater for groundwater and other uses, and many more (like in Monterey, San Diego, and Silicon Valley) are on that path, just like Soquel Creek Water District. In fact, Orange County Water District has been recycling and purifying water since 1975!
SB 332 is expected to get its first committee hearing in the coming months.
AB401 The Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Act (Passed 2015)
Secondly, a question that often comes up is whether there are special rates for the District's low income customers. The short answer is no - but the good news is that there is a statewide low income rate assistance (LIRA) program in the works which would help low income customers with their water bills. In fact, California is the first state to legally recognize the basic need for water- that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.
It's important to understand that under current State regulations, it's not legal for the District to offer a lower rate to some customers that is subsidized by other rate payers. Our only source of revenue is from rate payers, so any special lower rates would be, by definition, subsidized in that way.
The Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Act established through Assembly Bill 401 (Dodd, 2015), is intended to provide a statewide W-LIRA program to support low income customers and help assure affordability of adequate drinking water in their homes. Once the program is in place, the District will make sure our customers know that this program is available. The State W-LIRA program would provide assistance to customers whose household income is 200% or less of the Federal poverty level. For a family of four, that would mean an annual income of about $50,000 or less to qualify.
In the time since AB 401 was passed, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has been gathering input and comment, and drafting reports and plans. It's anticipated that the SWRCB will submit a final report to the Legislature this year, which would then set the stage for program implementation.
The District will continue to monitor this progress of the development of SB322 and the implementation of AB401 and will provide an update in a future column.
As always, if you have any questions about this month's topic or anything else related to Soquel Creek Water District, feel free to email Melanie Mow Schumacher or call at 831-475-8501, ext. 153.