Document Details

A Survey of Efforts to Achieve Universal Access to Water and Sanitation in California

Angélica Salceda, Kena Cador | April 12th, 2018

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 64/292, which declared that “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation [is] a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” Two years later, the California Legislature added section 106.3 to the California Water Code (Section 106.3), which declared that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.”

Although the formulation of the human right to water (HRTW) for sanitary purposes in Section 106.3 is not as explicit as the UN resolution, it is also true that the availability of safe and clean drinking water presupposes the sanitary disposal of human waste. Accordingly, the statute has served as the touchstone for California drinking water and sanitation efforts.

Since 2012, California government agencies and non-governmental stakeholders have focused most of their efforts on drinking water. These efforts, while commendable, have been incomplete. First, the need for drinking water access and quality continues to outstrip capacity and resources. Second, while sanitation requires an adequate supply of water, it also requires an array of public and private infrastructure and services for the hygienic disposal of human waste, including household-level infrastructure like a toilet or septic tank.

This paper will focus on needs, efforts, and recommendations to advance the right to water for drinking and sanitary purposes. First, we summarize the legislative efforts that set the foundation for the adoption of HRTW in California.

Second, we discuss the challenges facing residents of disadvantaged unincorporated communities, particularly in light of California’s recent drought, to illustrate the drinking water and sanitation needs of these communities. Third, we review the state’s implementation of Section 106.3 and efforts by non-governmental stakeholders to advance HRTW, focusing on the need to invest in programs and funds to address the right to water for sanitary purposes. Last, we provide recommendations to tackle the existing and ongoing needs related to sanitation, with a focus on household-level infrastructure.


disadvantaged communities (DACs), drinking water, human right to water, infrastructure