Dear Water Board: Friendly Reminder That Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Jul 23, 2021

In the past year, nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies have gone to great lengths to make public statements and claim racial equity credentials. These efforts are laudable… and to be truly meaningful, they need to be followed up by action. Paramount to the racial reckoning is ensuring that the changes we make in the name of justice are thoughtful and substantive—not just aspirational without tangible action. And we expect the same from California’s environmental agencies.

The State Water Board is California’s most powerful agency on water quality issues, regulating everything from water use rights to pollution controls. Their newly released draft Equity Resolution contains impressive, proactive language about racial equity and new intentions to ensure Water Board policies don’t disparately impact communities of color.

The words are strong, but based on Baykeeper’s decades watchdogging the Water Board, we know that living up to the new resolution will require hard work. The Water Board is charged with keeping and defending the state’s water rights system, one that the agency inherited long ago and that is based on a history of racism and genocide. Many of the Board’s actions (and inactions) over the years have negatively and disproportionately affected communities of color and their access to clean water and healthy waterways.

So last week, during a public opportunity to provide feedback on the draft Equity Resolution, Baykeeper submitted a list of specific actions the Board should pursue now to make sure their actions match their good intentions.

These recommendations include:

  • Restoring natural patterns of freshwater flow in rivers to support indigenous communities that rely on cultural and subsistence fishing – rather than the Board’s current practice of permitting overallocation of waters to flood almond orchards and rice paddies, which are often owned by powerful corporations. 
  • Requiring Bay Area cities to address the root causes of homelessness and provide adequate waste services – rather than the Board’s current practice of ignoring cities’ misuse of water laws to criminalize the unhoused for trash and bacteria pollution. 
  • Holding the coal industry accountable for its pollution in the Bay – rather than the Board’s current practice of underregulating the fossil fuel industry and obstructing citizen groups’ legal actions aimed to stop pollution and protect impacted communities.

Click here to read our full recommendations for the State Water Board. We’ll continue to push the Water Board and other agencies to take action to protect the health of communities around the Bay.

If you’d like to weigh in and urge the Water Board to take meaningful action to protect communities of color, you can submit comments by August 2. To do so, send your comment in an email to commentletters@waterboards.ca.gov with the subject line "Comment Letter: Racial Equity.”

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