Clean water is a human right, essential to good health and to the resiliency of California. Yet, more than one million people from every region of our state have unsafe water at home. California is the fifth largest economy in the world, but for far too long, the state has neglected the basic right to safe water.
Three hundred public water systems across California fall short of federal drinking water standards and do not have the resources to fix and manage urgent water treatment problems. These broken systems deliver water polluted with contaminants such as arsenic, uranium, nitrates, lead and perchlorate. As health care providers, we’re concerned about the impact of these contaminants on human health, which over time include sickness and disease, miscarriage, birth defects, elevated cancer levels and developmental problems in children.
The toxic drinking water problem only worsens as the climate continues to change. Droughts deplete groundwater, concentrating toxins. Flooding and rising sea levels lead to more contamination. Extreme heat events make the need for safe and affordable drinking water even more critical.
We can and must ensure our state’s contaminated water systems are fixed. Fortunately, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leadership have remained committed to developing a commonsense, sustainable solution. On Sunday, the governor and legislature released a summary of their 2019-2020 Budget Compromise that commits California to stable safe drinking water funding this year and in years to come. We now urge the Legislature to pass the compromise budget proposal and trailer bill to finally deliver safe drinking water to all Californians.
The stakes are too high to delay decisive action. A recent report found that at least 400 schools in California have lead-contaminated drinking water, a terrifying reality that threatens our children’s development.
As a health system with 31 hospitals in California, we are committed to protecting the health of patients and preventing the worst health impacts of climate change. Dignity Health belongs to Connect the Drops, a group of 35 major companies working with Ceres to advocate for resilient water policy in California and advance sustainable water solutions. Last year, Dignity Health also helped found the California Health Care Climate Alliance, a coalition of the five largest health systems in the state committed to protecting our planet and our health and to building resilient communities. Both groups are working hard to ensure our patients, employees, neighbors and communities have access to safe and affordable drinking water.
Dignity Health has committed to water stewardship as a core priority. We are resolved to help ensure that all the communities we serve—across California as well as Arizona and Nevada--and all the people who make Dignity Health what we are today have clean, safe drinking water.
We are proud of the state’s longstanding leadership when it comes to protecting the environment and safeguarding public health. It is time to come together and protect our water and the health of all Californians. We call on legislators across the state to stand with us for the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. California declared Human Right to Water eight years ago. We can make that promise a reality. It is the right thing to do.
Jon Van Boening is the president of Dignity Health Central California.