January 24, 2018
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Strengthening California’s Water Protections to Fend Off D.C. Rollbacks

A new initiative, the Clean Water Accountability Project, will help boost efforts to enforce California’s water laws and environmental protections, writes environmental attorney David Nahai.

by David Nahai

THOSE WHO BELIEVE Trump has accomplished little in his first year are dead wrong.

Certainly, when it comes to the environment, his servants at the United States Environmental Protection Agency are executing the Trump agenda with terrifying efficiency. According to the New York Times, 53 environmental regulations have been rescinded or are on the chopping block. The Trump regime’s actions to rescind the Obama-era Clean Water Rule provide just one example of its determination to roll back water quality protections for the benefit of polluters.

California must step up to blunt Trump’s destructive agenda on water as we have on climate change. And we have the framework in place to do so. Our State Water Resources Control Board and nine regional water boards are our bulwarks against the degradation of our coast, surface water and groundwater. Unfortunately, most Californians have little knowledge of the vital work performed by our water boards in implementing essential regulations and holding polluters accountable.

We must elevate public awareness.

But we must also intensify our support for our water boards and increase their effectiveness in the ongoing effort to curb water contamination and punish polluters.

If we are to be successful in fending off the assault on our water quality standards, our water boards must be adequately resourced, laws and regulations must be aggressively enforced, polluters must be pursued and penalized, water board members must be qualified and effective as guardians of the environment and officials all along the chain of command must be held accountable.

As the former chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, I am proud to be involved in an effort to do just that through the Clean Water Accountability ProjectWe have strong laws on the books, and must ensure that appointed members of our water boards are fully supported as they step up to implement and enforce the laws and regulations intended to protect our water. This initiative, always worthwhile, is now absolutely necessary in light of the determined effort from D.C. to roll back bedrock protections and defund state and regional clean water programs.

California Coastkeeper Alliance has convened a high-level panel of experts to bolster the work of our water boards, defend our most critical resource from polluters and protect the lifeblood of our economy. I am proud to be cochairing this Blue Ribbon Panel in an effort to reinvigorate water governance in California.

We have come together because our coast, bays and rivers – and the drinking water we all depend on – need strong champions. We still have a pollution problem that plagues far too many of California’s waterways.

I know California can do better. And we must do better, as hostility out of Washington, D.C., is making the work of state and regional water guardians more important than ever.

We are working with the water boards, as well as with the governor’s office, legislators and stakeholders, to explore ways in which we can improve enforcement, public outreach, the selection process of board members and the integration of climate change and equity issues in the decision-making matrix. As part of this effort, we will consider the basic structure and appointments process to ensure that the people entrusted with the protection of California’s clean water are qualified to discharge this responsibility and are supported in the performance of this sacred duty.

It won’t be enough to produce a lofty report that will sit on a shelf. Our goal is to hone in on some of the big challenges facing the state and regional boards, and identify workable solutions that will help California deliver on our promise of clean, reliable and sustainable water for all.

Originally published in News Deeply by David Nahai, who is the former chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and former commission president and general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Board.

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Waterkeeper

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