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AB 301: Schwarzenegger's Last Chance to Have a Positive Impact on California's Water Future

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By Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes and Mark Schlosberg

For the past two years, water issues have dominated political debate in Sacramento and throughout the state, however there is one water bill on the Governor's desk that we should all be able to agree on AB 301 (Fuentes).

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AB 301 would give Californians the right to know how much of their communities' water is being bottled for sale and where that bottled water comes from. With water scarcity being a top concern, this modest bill is an important step towards better managing our water.

Currently in California, there are over 100 bottled water facilities, some operating in parched areas of the state including Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego Counties. About half of water that is bottled comes from municipal sources at the same time that companies then sell essentially the same product we get from our tap back to us for up to a thousand times the cost.

In other areas of California, bottlers seek water from springs that are critical to the health of the local environment including creeks and lakes. Overdrawing on these resources can impact the entire community and the environment. In either case, the community has the right to know how water is being used in order to properly manage community resources.

AB 301 passed the legislature and is supported by over 30 organizations throughout the state. The only opposition on record comes, ironically, from the state's Department of Public Health, the agency that would be responsible for facilitating the disclosure of this information. However, the Public Health Department opposition is unfounded.

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First, the DPH claims that the program costs money, but what DPH seems to be ignoring is that not only would this bill carry an insignificant cost, but the entire cost would be covered out of existing fees in the Food Safety Fund. While the overall state budget is severely in the red, there is currently a multimillion-dollar surplus in that fund and the water fees portion has a $500,000 surplus, over 10 times the estimated cost of this modest bill.

Second, the DPH argues vetoing the bill is necessary to protect confidential business information of the bottlers. Putting aside the significant question of why the public health department is arguing against consumer's right to know how community water resources are used, not a single private bottler has gone on record opposing AB 301. If the bottled water industry does not object to this legislation, why is the DPH bending over backwards to stop it from becoming law? Shouldn't the DPH be working to protect public health and consumers instead?

Nationally, bottled water consumption has been declining over the past couple of years and for good reason. The bottled water industry uses excessive amounts of water in production and creates billions of petroleum-based plastic bottles, the vast majority of which are not recycled but discarded and end up on our landfills, lakes, rivers, and oceans. It also promotes a product that is a great consumer rip-off, costing up to a thousand times more than tap water for essentially the same product.

With all these impacts, Californian's should at least have the right to know how much water is being bottled and which communities are being impacted. Last session, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation claiming he did not have time to review it in light of the budget impasse. This year he has a chance to lead.

While there is much debate over the future direction of California water policy, AB 301 will only encourage making California's water use as efficient and responsible as possible. We urge Governor Schwarzenegger to side with California's communities and sign AB 301.

Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes represents the 39th District in Los Angeles County and Mark Schlosberg is the national organizing director for the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch.
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Food & Water Watch is a non-profit organization that advocates for common sense policies that will result in healthy, safe food and access to safe and affordable drinking water. Everyone is dependent on shared resources like clean water, safe food (more...)
 

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