The California State Water Resources Control Board has issued a draft resolution adopting the human right to water as a core value and directing its implementation in Water Board programs and activities. The Water Board is the agency within California that regulates the use of water. In 2012, the California Water Code was amended to establish the policy of the state that every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking and sanitary purposes. All relevant state agencies are required to consider this policy when revising, adopting or establishing policies, regulations and grant criteria, as pertinent. The guidance does not expand any obligation of the state to provide water or to require the expenditure of additional resources to develop water infrastructure beyond the obligation to consider when establishing policies, regulations and grant criteria.
When first proposed, the amendment to the state legislation was opposed by some water agencies that were concerned regarding the vagaries of how to provide for the human right to water. As a result, the legislation clarified that it did not impose new obligations on local water agencies or affect water rights. The state’s guidance focuses primarily on water quality; however, there are implications for water rights as the Water Board must consider the relative benefit to be derived from all beneficial uses, including any uses specified in any relevant water quality control plan. While not adopting a specific standard, the Water Board has cited to regulations that establish guidance for the indoor domestic use of water at either 50 or 55 gallons per capita per day. During the recent California drought, various communities lost water supply and many domestic wells went dry. Much of this was a result of declining groundwater levels. It has been argued that during the drought, the state’s failure to allow for the delivery of surface water resulted in overreliance on groundwater, which in turn, resulted in the loss of water supply. How this human right to water will affect the Water Board’s future rulings regarding the provision of minimum supplies of water during a drought is yet to be seen.