In 2004, attorney Laurel Firestone received an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to start the Rural Poverty Water Project at the Delano office of the Center on Race Poverty and the Environment (“CRPE”). Firestone teamed with Susana De Anda, then CRPE’s community organizer, to help low-income communities of color in California’s San Joaquin Valley address drinking water issues.
Over time it became clear that many dozens of communities in the San Joaquin Valley face similar drinking water issues, and that, given their scale and nature, the root causes of these issues can only be addressed properly by an organization dedicated full-time to the effort. In September 2006, the Rural Poverty Water Project spun off from CRPE and became the Community Water Center. As an independent entity, the Center is able to focus entirely on fostering strategic grassroots capacity to address water challenges in small, rural, low-income communities and communities of color. Firestone and De Anda are the Community Water Center’s founders and Co-Executive Directors.
After just three years, CWC has become a source of drinking water expertise and a center for community water organizing in Tulare County. Here are some of our accomplishments from the first several years:
CWC empowered and supported hundreds of grassroots activists and youth, from 22 communities in Tulare, Fresno and Kings Counties to address drinking water challenges in local communities; including: Alpaugh, Cutler, Ducor, Earlimart, East Orosi, Lamont, Las Deltas, Lindsay, Monson, Orosi, Pixley, Plainview, Porterville, Seville, Strathmore, Tonyville, Tooleville, Visalia, West Goshen, Woodlake, Yettum, and Wells Track. For more on these victories and struggles, please visit the Communities page.
Co-Executive Director Susana De Anda was chosen as one of four Petra Fellows for 2009-2010 for her unique contributions to the rights, autonomy and dignity of others.
For three years now, CWC has coordinated monthly AGUA meetings, the coalition of grassroots activists fighting for regional solutions to the drinking water crisis. Visit the AGUA page for more on this amazing coalition.
We have supported the development of AGUA Youth, a group of 11 Tulare County youth residents, ranging in age from 12 to 18 years old, fighting for water justice.
We published the 200 page Guide to Community Drinking Water Advocacy, which combines all of CWC’s expertise, tools, and experiences in a bi-lingual resource for communities fighting for water justice.
With the opening of our second office in a historic house in downtown Visalia, CWC has created a center for community water organizing and advocacy.
We filed a lawsuit on behalf of AGUA against the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board challenging the insufficient water quality permits issued to the 1600 dairies in the Valley.
CWC helped get AGUA member, local community resident, and long-time water activist Sandra Meraz appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. This appointment marks the first time that a low-income person of color has ever been appointed to this traditionally industry-dominated board.
Co-Executive Director Laurel Firestone continues to advocate for community water needs on the Tulare County Water Commission, which she was appointed to in 2007.