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New Human-Right-to-Water Bill Introduced as Part of U.N. Expert's Visit to California
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Winnemem Wintu Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk-Franco (left) discusses her village's sewer system with the U.N. Independent Expert Catarina de Albuquerque. Photo courtesy of Marc Dadigan ©2011
With a new governor in office and a United Nations human-rights expert investigating state water-justice issues, a new human-right-to-water bill was introduced Monday in the California State legislature. If the bill is enacted into law, California would be the first state in the United States to adopt this landmark human-rights legislation.
The announcement of this new legislation — part of a six-bill human-right-to-water package — coincided with a visit to California by Catarina de Albuqueque, the U.N. independent expert on the human right to water and sanitation, who is currently touring the country. The package was put together in collaboration with UUSC partners the UU Legislative Ministry of California and the Environmental Coalition for Water (EJCW), a network of more than 50 California grassroots water-justice organizations.
The new legislation was revealed to the public at a press conference at the state capitol in Sacramento and was scheduled as part of a three-day visit by de Albuquerque to northern California. The California visit included a tour on Sunday of the Winnemem Wintu Native American community in Redding, Calif. She is scheduled to travel to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for the final leg of her U.S. visit.
OnThursday, March 3, de Albuquerque will testify at a public hearing, beginning at 10:00 a.m., before the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C. [PDF] UUSC President William F. Schulz also is scheduled to testify. She will conclude her visit on Friday, March 4, with a press conference, beginning at noon, at the United Nations Information Center, 1775 K St., Washington, D.C.
"The six-bill legislative package would make it a policy of the state that every Californian has a human right to clean, accessible water for basic human needs," said Debbie Davis, EJCW's policy director. "The five additional bills make changes in state law to begin implementing the human-right-to-water policy and promote access to safewater for the health and well-being of all Californians."
More than 11.5 million Californians rely on water from suppliers that experienced at least one violation of state drinking-water standards as reported to the Department of Public Health in 2004, according to Davis.
"In far too many communities, the sole water supply is contaminated, and families unable to afford treatment are left entirely without safe water," stated Davis. "In the Central Valley and Central Coast regions, more than 90 percent of communities depend on groundwater for drinking."
The new human-right-to-water bill in California follows an intensive statewide campaign in 2009 during which a similar bill was approved overwhelmingly by both the state assembly and senate. However, the measure was vetoed by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was term-limited out of office last year.
The visit by the U.N. expert began Feb. 22 in Washington, D.C., and continued in Boston, Mass., on Feb. 25 and on Cape Cod on Feb. 26, prior to her trip to California. She is scheduled to return to Washington to testify before the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Thursday morning and preside at a news conference on Friday at the U.N. Information Center in Washington.
De Albuquerque began her U.S. visit with three days of site visits in Washington, D.C., and meetings with a variety of civil-society organizations, nonprofits, academics, and government officials working on economic, social, and cultural rights as well as issues related to nondiscrimination.
"As a world leader in foreign aid to the water and sanitation sectors, the United States in a unique position to promote these human rights," said de Albuquerque. "I will also closely examine the domestic situation, including challenges in access to safe drinking water and sanitation for low-income groups, minority groups, homeless people, and Native American communities."
"This mission will particularly consider the situation of the most vulnerable groups with a special emphasis on the human rights principles of equality, nondiscrimination, participation, and accountability," she added.