Sprinklers watering a Southern California lawn. Courtesy Metropolitan Water District

A group of San Diego area business, civic and water industry officials voiced opposition Wednesday to a water tax bill currently making its way through the state Assembly.

The bill would impose a new water tax on most households — along with higher charges for agriculture and industry — in order to fund infrastructure improvements in rural areas that lack clean tap water access. If passed, the new taxes are expected to generate roughly $140 million per year.

Encinitas City Councilman Mark Muir, who chairs the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors and is a member of the San Dieguito Water District Board, said the bill could set a “dangerous precedent.”

“It would be the camel’s nose under the tent; what begins as a modest increase could quickly grow larger and larger as more projects and programs try to get into the tent,” he said. “We’ve already seen proposals in Sacramento that could add more than $15 a month to residential water bills.”

Senate Bill 623, introduced by Sen. William Monning, a Democrat from Carmel in Northern California, is intended to aid traditionally underserved communities in central California, where farming has contaminated groundwater.

Instead of taxing residents statewide, the local coalition proposed making polluters pay for groundwater cleanup, or creating a trust fund from state budget surpluses. They also said legislators could also use existing or future general obligation bonds to fund improvements, or asses a fee on agricultural products associated with contamination.

“The water tax violates a core tenet of pollution cleanup policy: polluter pays,” said Haney Hong, president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. “Why not collect more revenue from the actual polluters rather than all consumers? It doesn’t make sense to place a disproportionate responsibility on ratepayers to clean up groundwater contamination caused by others.”

— City News Service

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.