Last month, the AGUA Coalition and CWC hosted federal officials from the US EPA’s Office of Water to share their experiences and expertise as the federal agency develops its National Action Plan for Safe Drinking Water. 29 community leaders from the San Joaquin Valley held a roundtable discussion with federal EPA Office of Water administrators, as well as administrators at EPA Region 9 and the State Water Board.
The participants shared powerful testimony about the need for better enforcement and funding to ensure that small, low-income communities have safe water. Individuals shared stories of receiving conflicting notices about water safety. For instance, Seville residents had recently received a boil water notice that said to boil water to address bacterial contamination, but not to serve boiled water to infants because it might have high nitrate levels. These confusing messages, which left older residents wondering why their health wasn’t of concern with nitrates, which can cause cancer through long-term consumption. Fresno residents shared that their annual Consumer Confidence Report, which explains water quality data, required residents to look online for the results and did not make the Spanish-language version easy to access online. Residents of Arvin explained that although they live in a low-income community, they have had great difficulty accessing adequate funding to finance a water treatment facility, which means residents have been dealing with arsenic-contaminated water for over 10 years. Many residents from drought-impacted communities shared stories of the extreme hardship of living without any running water. They expressed that federal funding needs to be made available for low-income communities which have never had centralized infrastructure to secure safe and affordable water, often through consolidations and interties.
Following the roundtable, federal and state officials visited Seville and East Porterville to learn more about the situation in communities impacted by water quality and supply challenges. The visits made visible the need for better coordination and communication between agencies and the public with regards to issues of water supply and reliability.