As the president of an association representing more than 15,000 farmers throughout California, ranging from farmer-owned businesses to the world’s best-known brands, I cannot overstate how essential water is to our communities.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, that need is ever the more urgent and necessary. We need water to keep our families and our employees healthy and to help them thrive, and we need water to continue growing crops to feed everyone from our neighbors to families across the country.

That is why Agricultural Council of California joined a coalition of more than 500 state and national voices, from environmental justice advocates to utilities to businesses and also fellow agriculture organizations, with a clear message for Congress and our state representatives: any federal package to help the nation recover from COVID-19 must include water.

In California, especially in agriculture, water is often portrayed as an instigator of division. But this ignores an important lesson that COVID-19 has made even clearer — none of us are as healthy or resilient as we could be until everyone has safe and affordable water.

Our unprecedented coalition believes deeply in that connection and the shared public health benefits that come when we prioritize federal, state and local investments in water infrastructure, water and wastewater systems, including very small systems and private wells, particularly in places like the San Joaquin Valley.

This investment also makes economic sense. There are shovel-ready water projects in every district and corner of California and the U.S. After decades of disinvestment, our country now has a long list of aging and broken water infrastructure, which keeps growing each year. Yet, with targeted federal investment, we can get to work. Studies have found that we can create up to 15,000 jobs for every $1 billion invested in clean water infrastructure.

Ag Council is proud to join such diverse stakeholders with a straightforward ask for our elected representatives, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who have recently reaffirmed their commitment to California farmers.

To address our colliding public health and economic crises, we call for any federal package aimed at COVID-19 relief and recovery to include four bipartisan investments: $100 billion in new funding over five years for water infrastructure; $4 billion for water affordability programs; emergency funding for affected water utilities; and a shutoff moratorium and reconnection provision that ensures every U.S. resident has access to water in their homes now and through this health emergency.

As has been well documented, more than 1 million Californians do not have safe and affordable tap water. Many of these residents live in farming communities, which is why the Ag Council joined with environmental justice and other advocates for years to advance the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund in the state Legislature.

We were immensely proud when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the fund into law last July. As a state, we made a promise to those Californians that the era of toxic taps and lugging bottled water for miles was coming to an end. We made a promise to help struggling water systems. That was before the COVID-19 crisis. Now, many communities are struggling to find bottled water. Others are at risk of water shut offs or not being able to afford to keep their water system running.

We are still accountable to those promises made. And by fulfilling them, we can help communities and economies throughout our state and the country protect public health, stimulate untapped sectors of the economy and create much-needed jobs. By supporting water systems of all sizes and well owners, we can also bolster the country’s rural communities.

At this moment, racial inequities in our society, including in our state’s water policies, are coming into greater light for some. Communities of color and those living in disadvantaged and low-income communities are more likely to not have clean, running water.

We call on elected representatives to hear the voices of California farmers, residents, communities, utilities and so many others. Invest in our well-being, resiliency and security. Invest in water. 

Emily Rooney is president of Ag Council and can be reached at Emily@agcouncil.org.

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