State Water Board proposes plan to provide relief for Californians struggling to pay water bills

Water Affordability Proposal big step forward for guaranteeing Californians’ Human Right to Water

SACRAMENTO - California residents and clean water advocates commend the State Water Board for releasing its proposed plan for a statewide water affordability program on Tuesday.

While families can currently get help to pay unaffordable energy bills through a long-running federal program, no similar universal program exists for water — often forcing families to choose between paying for water or meeting other basic needs. Research shows that the inability to pay water bills has clear links to eviction and homelessness in California and across the country, underscoring the need for urgent action.

The State Water Board led a series of public meetings between 2016 and 2019 to formulate a water affordability plan to address this critical need, as directed by AB 401 (Dodd, 2015).

On Tuesday the board released its Recommendations for a Statewide Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program. It now offers the Legislature and the Newsom Administration a path forward to promptly develop a low-income rate assistance program, a necessary part of securing every Californian’s human right to water.

“Low-income rural and urban residents have something in common: their water rates are increasing far faster than their wages or retirement income,” said Jennifer Clary, Water Program Manager for Clean Water Action. “We look forward to supporting a program that provides a lifeline to safe drinking water for Californians who face unaffordable rates.”

Adriana Sanchez Ochoa, Deputy Director for NextGen Policy, remarked, “Water is a basic human right.  No family should have to choose between paying their water bill or buying food for their family.  We are committed to ensuring a plan that prioritizes accessibility, affordability and the safety of drinking water in California.”  

A state-run water affordability program will allow California to continue its commitment to economic justice and healthy communities by closing the affordability gap.

“Californians should never have to make the impossible choice between paying their water bills or paying for other necessities like food and rent,” said Susana De Anda, Executive Director and Co-founder of the Community Water Center. “Unaffordable bills should not stand in the way of securing the human right to water for all Californians. We urge the Legislature and Governor Newsom to act upon this proposal swiftly.”

“We work with many residents of low-income communities like Cantua Creek and El Porvenir who regularly pay more than $100 a month just for drinking water,” said Michael Claiborne with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “The state must take advantage of this opportunity to ensure that all Californians have access to affordable drinking water and wastewater services.”

“Safe, sufficient and affordable water is a human right, but California’s rising cost of living makes it harder for low-income families to pay their water utility bills,” said Linda Escalante, Southern California Legislative Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This plan marks a pivotal step in ensuring the legislature and state agencies are meeting the needs of all Californians. We must prioritize funding assistance programs for disadvantaged communities and low-income households, to equitably manage our water resources.”

Community members and advocates who have participated in the State Water Board’s process will review the proposal closely and provide feedback to help the board, legislators, and the governor’s office take action.


Community Water Center (CWC) believes all communities should have access to safe, clean, and affordable water. Founded in 2006, CWC works toward realizing the Human Right to Water for all Californians through education, organizing, and advocacy. Website: Twitter: @CWaterC

Clean Water Action is a national non-profit organization that relies on grassroots education and empowerment to enact policies and programs that protect and restore water quality. Website: Twitter: @cleanh2oca.  

Leadership Counsel works alongside the most impacted communities to advocate for sound policy and eradicate injustice to secure equal access to opportunity regardless of wealth, race, income and place. We work with community leaders throughout the San Joaquin Valley and Eastern Coachella Valley on such issues as safe affordable drinking water, basic transit services, wastewater services, decent affordable housing, and the right to live free from industrial pollution with infrastructure that supports healthy lifestyles. Through copowerment, organizing, litigation, policy advocacy, and research, we confront California's stark inequalities manifest in too many of California's low income communities and communities of color. Twitter: @LCJandA Instagram: @leadership_counsel website:

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC

NextGen Policy was originally founded in 2014 to focus on climate and environmental policy, in recent years it has broadened its scope to advance solutions to economic, environmental, and social justice. Specifically, our policy portfolio now encompasses topics such as: electric vehicles and renewable energy, criminal justice reform and immigration issues, healthcare and food insecurity, mental health and voting rights, student loan debt and the census, veterans issues and consumer protections, and affordable housing and environmental justice. For more, visit or follow us on Twitter @NextGen_Policy.   


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