Congressman submits legislation to assist small communities improve water

By Ed Martin, Editor
Rep. TJ Cox was in Parlier Monday (Dec. 2) to announce a new bill, the "Disadvantaged Community Drinking Water Assistance Act," to bring clean drinking water to his district and communities across the country.
Rep. TJ Cox was in Parlier Monday (Dec. 2) to announce a new bill, the "Disadvantaged Community Drinking Water Assistance Act," to bring clean drinking water to his district and communities across the country.
Photo Courtesy Rep. TJ Cox Office

Central Valley Congressman TJ Cox, on Tuesday, was expected to introduce key legislation to aid relatively small disadvantaged communities across the country (including his own 21st Congressional District) obtain clean drinking water.

The congressman’s legislation could prove helpful as Lemoore and its neighbor, Stratford, work to obtain clean water. Stratford, just in the past year, has experienced difficulties with its water system, losing a pair of crucial water wells to possible erosion.

While Stratford’s residents got their wells back, there may still be concerns about the longtime reliability of the town’s water supply. Two wells are over 40 years old, and the newest is 13 years old.

The city of Lemoore has also had its share of long-term issues with its water. Just two weeks ago, local officials broke ground on a $30 million water treatment facility to deal with quality issues involving elevated levels of ammonia, arsenic, iron, total organic carbon (TOC), and color. Only by blending water from various wells has the city managed to meet its distribution water quality requirements.

Video of press conference in Parlier

The new facility is being paid for by a bond measure, financed via local water rate increases over several years.

According to the Cox legislation, Kings County’s communities like Lemoore, Stratford, Avenal, and Corcoran could qualify for assistance. The Disadvantaged Community Drinking Water Assistance Act would provide eligible cities throughout the United States over $100 million in grants for construction, applications, technical assistance, and operations and maintenance.

Eligibility requirements include communities under 60,000 in population and a median household income of $64,800, making Lemoore, Stratford, Corcoran, Armona, and Avenal eligible for assistance. By comparison, Lemoore’s median income is $53,482, and its population hovers around 26,000, clearly making Lemoore eligible for funding.

Lemoore City Manager Nathan Olson, when contacted by The Leader, said that the details of the legislation were limited but did state that Lemoore is on the congressman’s list to be contacted for the next steps and how to apply for the funding.

Rep. Cox outlined his proposal at a Monday afternoon press conference in Parlier, where local elected officials joined him, giving testimony about how his bill might help their communities. He cited Parlier’s experience with poor water, including paying high bills – up to $120 per month – for drinking water that fails to meet federal water standards.

He added that San Francisco residents pay half that much for drinkable water.

“We should be afforded the same rights,” said Cox. “The problem is that leaders in small communities like Parlier don’t have the money to solve their water problems. The federal government has so far dodged its responsibility to the Central Valley. I’m proposing that we work together to fix it.

“I am proud to announce that once I get back to Washington tomorrow, I’m going to introduce one of the most important pieces of legislation that I’ve signed off on during my time in Congress,” said Cox.  “For years, rural communities, like Parlier, Delano, Huron, Wasco, and Corcoran, have been unable to utilize federal programs that will help them to use federal dollars to provide reliable drinking water to their cities.”

Cox went on to say that his $100 million grant program will go to projects in income-qualified communities of less than 50,000 people to ensure that the communities have the resources and the water that they need to meet federal standards.

The funding covers such items as blending and drilling new wells. “Every community is different, and no one solution is going to work across the board,” said Cox. The legislation also helps communities with funding applications, technical assistance, and operations and maintenance issues.

“Every community is different,” insisted Cox. “And no one solution is going to work right across the board.”

Clean drinking water has certainly been on the mind of California’s legislators. In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved Senate Bill 200 that establishes a “Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund,” securing a long-term funding source and dedicating nearly $1.5 billion in funding to address the lack of safe drinking water in many communities across California. The measure was supported by a broad coalition of water, agriculture, local government, environmental justice, and community organizations.

SB 200 California Safe Drinking Water Act

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), which will administer the program, will allocate, as local assistance, grants, water system operations, maintenance costs, replacement water, and funding for long-term sustainability.

The SWRCB is required to develop a plan to identify public water systems, community water systems, and state small water systems that fail or are at risk of failing to provide safe drinking water.

Both of Kings County’s elected representatives, State Senator Melissa Hurtado and Assemblyman Rudy Salas, voted for the legislation which received overwhelming support, passing the senate 38-1 and in the Assembly 68-0. Some members did not vote.





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