Letter to Members of the California Legislature

​Dear President pro Tempore Atkins, Speaker Rendon, and Members of the California Legislature

CC: Governor Gavin Newsom and Infrastructure Advisor Antonio Villaraigosa

On behalf of more than 500 social justice organizations and thousands of people living on the front lines of climate change, we the undersigned write to express our strong support for Governor Newsom’s proposal to expedite approval and construction of critical infrastructure projects related to clean, reliable and affordable water in California.

Groundswell for Water Justice is a social justice coalition that was born in the midst of the worst drought in 1,200 years. Our mission is to end the cycle of unkept promises and under-investment in poor, rural and disenfranchised communities bearing the brunt of the climate crisis and its adverse impact on access to safe, affordable drinking water.  

Governor Newsom’s proposals to streamline and speed the planning, permitting and construction of critical infrastructure projects necessary to address climate change and protect our communities is foundational to ensuring access to clean, affordable drinking water now, for our future and, most importantly, before the next megadrought. 

To understand the urgency of this moment for our communities, we ask that you look at headlines from the last few years and ask yourself, how is it possible that in a State as wealthy as California, where more than $35 billion in funding has been approved for clean water projects in the last 20 years, that more than 1 million, mostly poor, Californians lack access to safe drinking water, and communities of color are still the first and most severely impacted by drought.

  • How a Legacy of Racism is Putting a 115-Year-Old Historically Black Town At Risk of Flooding – Again.  KQED May 12, 2023
  • Pajaro levee’s weaknesses were well-known. How years of inaction caused a major catastrophe San Francisco Chronicle, March 14, 2023
  • Predominantly Latino towns face huge obstacles getting clean drinking water. The Guardian Feb 28, 2021
  • Drought hit rural Latino communities hardest. CalMatters March 2022
  • How Racism Ripples Through Rural California’s Pipes. New York Times Nov 29, 2019
  • They Grow the Nation’s Food but Can’t Drink the Water.  May 21, 2019
  • California’s rural poor hit hardest as massive drought makes remaining water toxic. Washington Post, July 5, 2015

Governor Newsom’s proposal is a rifle-shot aimed at the heart of the problem – tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure funding dedicated to clean water supply, conveyance and treatment projects that would benefit disadvantaged communities sit idle for years, sometimes decades, because of an overly complex, redundant, and litigious approval process. The result? Funding for fish, wildlife and projects that benefit already well-funded communities pours out the door while poor communities and communities of color wait in line for funding, bottled water and disaster assistance — again and again and again.

Governor Newsom’s proposal is narrowly scoped to speed the environmental review process, not gut it; reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, not eliminate it, while preserving judicial enforcement of CEQA.  Billions of dollars in federal and State infrastructure funding is available that can help our communities survive the next drought.  But, as certainly as we know that our communities will be hardest in the next drought, we know that this funding will not reach our communities without action by legislative leaders as outlined in the Governor’s plan.

The droughts are getting worse. The “mega-drought” California just experienced is actually the second in less than a decade. Southern California is one of 19 hot spots around the world where the availability of freshwater is declining rapidly. Climate experts are sounding the alarm that demand for fresh water is expected to outstrip supply by 40% by 2030 – the end of this decade

Our families live in those communities you read about in the headlines. We don’t have much time before the next drought is upon us. We’re asking you to back the Governor’s proposal to speed up the process as much as possible to give our communities a fighting chance.