Letter to the Editor: State Water Board too slow to act

Dear Editor,

It seems that everyone but the people at California’s State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) understands the gravity of the Central San Joaquin Valley drought emergency. Amid our constant advocacy to secure clean and reliable drinking water for our community members, we noticed that the State Board has released a draft of its “Racial Equity Action Plan” for public comment. 

When we talk to our constituents and the local community water systems about their water needs, they talk about the need for adequate water storage and supply and highlight how the state is diverting water flows away from the Valley. They understand the need to ensure that their wells and infrastructure are up to date and that crumbling wells are replaced and properly capped. Not once has racism come up in the conversation. 

The State Board has recently been in the news for its poor handling of grant fund accountability, its slow application review processes, and its overreach of authority on water rights, as revealed by its loss in a significant court case regarding its ability to curtail river diversions during a drought. It is not racial inequity that has kept our communities in perpetual water insecurity, being served by hauled water deliveries for nearly a decade while their water projects linger in a limbo of government bureaucracy. The bureaucracy itself is the culprit.

The State Board has noted that employees’ work on the Racial Equity Action Plan, “is a priority and secondary to their normal duties.” The workgroup plans to present the plan to the State Board in 2023, with a more comprehensive plan to follow in 2024. The State Board is the state agency tasked with administering water rights, and this looks a lot like mission creep at a time when the State Board already struggles to achieve its mission. 

For those unfamiliar with the term, “mission creep” is when an organization expands its mission beyond the original goals that were set – often resulting in unplanned projects, commitments, and an inability to fully achieve those original goals. The State Auditor’s recent report cited the State Board lacks urgency in funding improvements for contaminated water systems and noted that it took the State Board “33 months on average in 2021 for water system operators to complete the application process and receive money…nearly double the time it took in 2017.” Meanwhile, the California Department of Water Resources allocated all of their Fiscal Year 22 community drought funding within months and will most likely allocate all of their Fiscal Year 23 community drought funding in less than three months, proving that State agencies can fund projects effectively and efficiently if they chose. 

The State Board’s own website describes their principles and values this way, “The State Water Resources Control Board…[is] dedicated to a single vision: abundant clean water for human uses and environmental protection to sustain California’s future.” 

While the State Board decides to focus on something other than their stated mission, our constituents, many of whom are disadvantaged and underserved populations, go without clean or readily available drinking water. At the local level, we work to ensure local government is cooperating with constituents to put projects forward, but without the State Board finalizing them, solutions cannot be implemented. 

We respectfully ask the State Water Resources Control Board to concentrate their efforts on delivering clean and reliable drinking water to all Californians, particularly to communities with an immediate need. Please, focus on the mission that is right in front of you – and ensure that clean water is abundant for all.

District 5 Tulare County Board Supervisor, Dennis Townsend

District 1 Tulare County Board Supervisor, Larry Micari

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