The efforts to move the states’ drinking water program from the Department of Public Health (DPH) to a new division within the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is almost complete. At a meeting of the Association of California Water Agencies, SWRCB Board Chair, Felicia Marcus spoke on a panel about the change. Marcus outlined how the move would work and assured the group that SWRCB would not treat this like other permits that the board oversees and that not every permit could be appealed to the state board. Marcus also assured the group that the person chosen to head the department would have a strong public health background. Many of the changes to the original bill come from stakeholder meetings that have been occurring since October of last year, when the bill met with so much opposition.
AB 145 was introduced by Henry Perea (D-Fresno), to address access to clean drinking water and the failure of California’s Drinking Water Program to meet the mandates of the U.S. EPA for making loans, using funds, and accounting issues, for the $455 million dollars in federal contributions. AB 145 passed the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, but later stalled in Senate Appropriation, as groups like the Association of California Water Agencies expressed concern about the move. The Brown Administration then proposed a change through the budget process entitled “Drinking Water Reorganization”. This proposal made changes to the SWRCB to create a Division of Drinking Water, along with the existing divisions of Water Rights, Water Quality, Financial Assistance and Administrative Services. Governor Browns, 2014-15 budget includes changes to fund the process. The changes will still need legislative approval this year.
If approved by the legislature the plan is to transfer the staff from the Drinking Water Program to the State Water Board. The Sacramento staff would then be moved into the CalEPA building. In March 2014, a 28 page document outlining the reorganization and transition plan gives seven reasons for the change with the number one reason as, “Consolidates all water quality regulation throughout the hydrologic cycle to protect public health and promote comprehensive water quality protection for drinking water, irrigation, industrial, and other beneficial uses.” The Drinking Water Transition Document also outlines how the other programs, such as the bond program, emergency response, and Operator Certification Program to name a few, will function under the reorganization. http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/drinkingwater/docs/transition_plan031414.pdf