2019 signing of SB200, California's Safe and Affordable Drinking
Water Fund. Because of it, the Water Board is in our second year
of implementing the Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and
Resilience (SAFER) program.
Using short- and long-term strategies, SAFER is designed
to ensure Californians who lack safe, adequate and affordable
drinking water receive it as quickly as possible and that the water
systems serving them establish sustainable solutions. In doing so,
SAFER minimizes the disproportionate environmental burdens
experienced by some communities and advances the fair treatment
of people of all incomes, races and cultures.
SOURCE: Creating the SAFER program is a huge step toward
addressing contaminated water supplies that affect about one
million residents in the state. What is your vision for how that
program will work moving forward? What do you hope the
program will accomplish?
ESQUIVEL: As we know and continue to see, there are often deep
inequities in our society that persist. Lack of access to clean water
is one symptom in a complex set of challenges our communities
face. Yet, a focus on access to clean drinking water and sanitation
can be an empowering passageway and help serve as an entry
point to discussions on interrelated challenges, like climate change,
vulnerability to droughts, floods and concentrating contaminants.
Furthermore, it can lead us to solutions for racial inequity and the
redlining of Brown and Black communities and can even inform a
just recovery from economic depression.
Reconciling our water systems intersects with other societal
reconciliations, and one of the clearest examples is the fight for
universal access to clean water and sanitation. This program and
work are not shaped by my vision alone or even principally. The
opportunity to work alongside a growing number of colleagues,
organizations and community members has been an honor these
last years. With federal opportunities on the horizon to invest in
our nation's failing infrastructure, the work and discussion come
at a critical time. What more fundamental infrastructure can we
consider than our water infrastructure?
SOURCE: Any lessons learned from the implementation of the
first round of funding last year?
ESQUIVEL: I am proud to say that 40 drinking water systems have
been returned to compliance in this first year-plus of implementation.
Roughly 92% of the remaining non-compliant systems are actively
working toward long-term solutions. Approximately 40% of those
systems are determining if it is feasible to regionalize with another
water system as a solution.
The first year’s funding was also focused on providing
technical assistance to water systems, which will remain an
important component, especially in these beginning years as we
build a pipeline of projects and drinking water solutions that are
ready for construction.
Unlike larger, more affluent systems, many communities
unable to meet drinking water standards lack the rate-payer
base to meet standards or advance drinking water projects. In