Cutler is an unincorporated community of approximately 5,000 people, nearly all of whom are farmworker families, located in Tulare County. Access to drinking water has been a challenge since at least 2014, and contamination has been an ongoing issue. Residents of Cutler are served contaminated groundwater with levels of the pesticide DBCP and nitrates over the federal health standards. The Cutler Public Utility Distric (CPUD) backup well is contaminated, but is still used as a supplementary source of drinking water when water levels in the primary well are too low, often during the summer.
Jesus Quedevo has lived in Cutler for the past 46 years. He recently had to retire from farmwork in order to take care of his ill wife, and this motivated him to help his community through volunteering. Jesus has been involved in water justice movements and community development organizations, and has helped create positive change in Cutler.
Jesus is especially passionate about clean water in schools, which helps to improve equitable access to education. “My major goal is for all students to get an education… I have a lot of grandchildren in the (school) district… and through continuous communication and collaboration we've received grants to provide drinking water at our local high school.” He has also achieved other water successes in the community. “For the past 10 years, (we have been) working with CWC to access clean drinking water and Proper Notice.” These notices alert community members, in multiple languages, when water is contaminated by pollutants. Previously, community members weren’t adequately notified of contamination in water, or how to effectively respond to the contamination. For example, there are some pollutants, like nitrates, that become more toxic when they are boiled, and these notifications now explain these nuances. In addition, Jesus organized with the community to help conserve water, and Cutler successfully reduced their water consumption by 29%.
Cutler has had trouble finding a source of groundwater that is uncontaminated, so they must use surface water supplies. The nearby Alta Irrigation District is considering building a plant to treat surface water from the Friant-Kern Canal. This water would supplement the drinking water of Cutler and other neighboring communities. Jesus has also been working with the North Tulare County Governance Study project to improve water access. “We are working towards the goals to improve our drinking waters, and be able to trust and drink our water… If we continue to participate and don't forget about the goal of accessing clean drinking water, we'll reach our goal,” he hopes. “Our community successes are not because of me. I've only been part of the successes gained.”