Standing Room Only: Briefing California Legislators on the Importance of Funding Safe Drinking Water
By Matt Davis
February 7, 2017
Reposted from Clean Water Action blog
120 people showed for our Capitol briefing in partnership with the AGUA Coalition, Community Water Center and our other allies at The Leadership Counsel for Accountability on access to safe and affordable drinking water this afternoon.
The goal of the meeting was for residents of some of the 300 California communities with unsafe drinking water to talk about what the problem is: Flint in our back yard. There are more residents in California whose drinking water standards are failing than the entire population of Flint, Michigan.
“You can’t turn your faucet on and drink it. We’re paying $60 to $120 a month for water we can’t drink. The only thing you can do is bathe in it and flush it down the toilet,” said Becky Quintana, a resident of Seville, California. “In our school we’re having to bring in porta-potties because we’re running out of water. We shouldn’t have to close the school for health problems. Seville is like a Flint, Michigan. We really need to take care of this issue before it’s put out there into the world about what it’s really like here.”
“Our first well got contaminated in 1990, the second in 1993, and the final one in 2003. They found not only just nitrates, but also TCP. We had to prove to the county that people were getting sick, having rashes and red eyes, from the water,” said Horacio Anezquita, a farmer and resident of San Jerardo.
“You hear Coachella, you think of the festival. But you look at the families who live there, they have issues with wells which are failing,” said Mariela Magana, from the Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability, who grew up in Coachella.
Senator Eduardo Garcia, chair of the Senate Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, who represents Coachella, told the crowd: “We have to be mindful of the costs, but also putting forward the public health interests of the people we represent.”
Strong majorities of Californians are willing to pay as much as four dollars a month on their water bill to fix unsafe levels of drinking water contamination, according to polling by Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin, Metz & Associates, who recently conducted phone interviews with 1,000 California voters to assess their views on threats to drinking water.
81% of Californians are familiar with water contamination problems in Flint, Michigan, which first came to light nationally more than two years ago.
The briefing precedes a briefing tomorrow, Wednesday, February 8, hosted by the State Water Resources Control Board to present important, newsworthy new data on opportunities to secure safe and affordable drinking water for all Californians.
Water Programs Intern
Abby started interning at the Community Water Center in January 2017 and is currently a third year Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning major at UC Davis. Growing up along the coast in southern California as an ocean lifeguard, Abby developed a passion for water policy and environmental conservation. After she graduates, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in environmental management, with which she aims to help bridge the gap between environmental research and policymaking in order to combat today’s pressing environmental dilemmas.
As an intern at Community Water Center, Abby hopes to learn more about grassroots advocacy and how localized solutions can lead to lasting and efficient change. Abby loves to surf, swim, and bike when she is not studying.
Last May, Governor Brown passed Executive Order B-37-16 which aims to improve drought planning and resiliency in California communities, and make water conservation a way of life throughout the state. The Order provides urban water agencies guidance for developing new water use targets permanently prohibits wasteful water practices. It recommends the development of Water Shortage Contingency Plans (both for urban water agencies and small, rural water systems), and updates to Agricultural Water Management Plans.
We are working to ensure our most vulnerable communities (particularly small and rural communities, and private well owners) have the tools necessary to successfully implement this Executive Order. A group of nonprofits, including CWC, developed comment letters and messaging resources to aid in this work (see below).
If you are interested in becoming involved with this work, contact Kelsey Hinton at email@example.com or 916-706-3346.
- Conservation Infographic
- Draft implementation report for EO B-37-16
- Executive Order B-37-16 "Making Conservation a California Way of Life"
Data Entry Intern
Gaby started interning for the Community Water Center in October 2016. She is currently finishing her final year at UC Davis with a major in Environmental Policy, Analysis & Planning. After graduation, Gaby would like to pursue a Master's degree in Public Policy and Administration. She is originally from Mexicali, Mexico and moved to the U.S in 2011. Being born and raised in one of the most polluted cities of Mexico sparked her interest in environmental issues including environmental policy, ocean pollution, climate change, and water policy.Working with non-English speaking students and immigrant students at the Yuba Community College, made her interested in helping disadvantaged communities and those who have a language barrier. As an intern at CWC, she will gain hands-on experience with advocacy and gain more knowledge about state and local water policies.Gaby enjoy beaches, hiking, and reading.Contact:
Talking about groundwater regulations and governance can occasionally seem a little dry and boring, but it’s a huge issue for California. And while the drought may be dry, its potential implications for the state are anything but boring.
In fact, the future of California as a whole is tied up in the health of groundwater basins. Did you know, for example, that groundwater has been providing nearly two-thirds of the state’s water supply during the recent drought? Even if your water supply doesn’t use groundwater, there’s a good chance you’re connected to a system that does.
The NGO Groundwater Collaborative is premiering it's film "Groundwater Matters" soon and you can be part of it! See CWC's own Regional Water Management Coordinator, Kristin Dobbin, as well as local communities Allensworth and Alpaugh featured during the film. Sign up here, to reserve your spot in their upcoming webinar where the full film will be premiered and watch the trailer here!
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.
By Ryan Sabalow, Dale Kasler and Phillip Reese
September 25, 2015
Drive through rural Tulare County and you’ll hear it soon enough, a roar from one of the hundreds of agricultural pumps pulling water from beneath the soil to keep the nut and fruit orchards and vast fields of corn and alfalfa lush and green under the scorching San Joaquin Valley sun.
Well water is keeping agriculture alive in Tulare County – and much of the rest of the San Joaquin Valley – through five years of California’s historic drought. Largely cut off from the supplies normally delivered via canals by the federal and state water projects, farmers have been drilling hundreds of feet into the ground to bring up the water they need to turn a profit.
Two years after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill designed to limit groundwater pumping, new wells are going in faster and deeper than ever. Farmers dug about 2,500 wells in the San Joaquin Valley last year alone, the highest number on record. That was five times the annual average for the previous 30 years, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of state and local data.
The new groundwater law won’t kick in until 2020, and won’t become fully implemented for another 20 years. In the meantime, farmers say they will continuing drilling and pumping. It’s their right, they say, and their only practical choice given the government’s limited surface water deliveries.
“Just like a guy that owns a hardware store who sells nothing but shovels, say I cut you off and decide not to supply you with shovels, are you going to close your store or are you going to get shovels from somebody else?” said Wayne Western Jr., a wine grape grower near Firebaugh in the parched west side of Fresno County.
“It’s a business. I’ll make no apologies for trying to stay in business and being successful,” said Western, who’s been relying almost exclusively on well water the past three years. “That’s what we do here.”
Part of what’s driving the well-drilling frenzy is a kind of groundwater arms race. Aquifers don’t respect property lines, and in many cases farmers with older, shallower wells are afraid of losing water to neighbors who are digging deeper wells and lowering the groundwater table. So they invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to drill new wells of their own. All told, farmers are expected to spend $303 million this year alone to pump groundwater, according to UC Davis researchers.
“Business is good; we’ve got plenty of work to do,” said driller Steve Arthur, who runs Arthur & Orum Well Drilling Inc. in Fresno.
On a recent weekday, Arthur was overseeing the drilling of a massive 1,200-foot well beneath an almond orchard in the tiny Tulare County community of Poplar. A few years ago, the typical well was only half as deep.
“These farmers, they’re learning if they go deeper, they’re going to get more water and they won’t have to drill as often,” Arthur said, shouting over the din of a drill rig. “If the government don’t give us any water, what’s the farmer supposed to do?”
The new well in Poplar cost about $260,000.
Arthur said he expects to drill about 260 new wells this year throughout the San Joaquin Valley. That’s about the same as last year, although the well-drilling industry isn’t quite as frantic now. Prices for new wells are off slightly, and some of Arthur’s Johnny-come-lately competitors – the so-called “drought chasers” – have left town. But Arthur, who farms 200 acres of almonds, said he thinks the well-drilling business won’t sputter anytime soon.
“When the farmer gets up in the morning, the last thing he wants to do is spend $200,000, $300,000 on a well,” Arthur said. “But if he wants to stay in business, that’s what he’s got to do.”
From 2012 through 2015, San Joaquin Valley farmers dug more than 5,000 wells, more than were dug cumulatively over the previous 12 years.
In Fresno and Tulare counties, where most of the drilling occurred, officials issued an average of almost 10 agricultural well permits every business day in 2015, though not all of those permits were used. That pace has fallen some in the first few months of 2016, but remains well above pre-drought levels. Tulare and Fresno are two of the three largest agricultural counties in the state, as measured by farm revenue.
As farmers ramp up drilling and install larger, more powerful pumps, aquifers that had quietly flourished beneath the soil for thousands of years are dropping at dangerous rates. It’s accelerating a phenomenon known as subsidence, in which some parts of the valley floor are sinking.
The problems of groundwater overdraft are most pronounced in the San Joaquin Valley, but they’re not limited to there.
“It’s a five-alarm fire in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Jay Ziegler of the Nature Conservancy, which has pleaded for stricter statewide restrictions on pumping. “But it’s a four-alarm fire in other areas around the state.”
The well drilling has exacted a substantial human cost in some of California’s poorest rural communities – the ones populated by workers who tend the fields kept green by all that groundwater.
Falling water tables mean underground pollutants become more concentrated, and in some cases municipal drinking-water wells fail altogether. By one estimate, about 30 percent of the communities in Tulare County have had problems with failing wells.
In East Porterville, hundreds of residents lost water in recent years. Tomas Garcia remembers the day in April 2014 when his shallow well failed. At work at a local tire shop, he got a call from his wife when their shower suddenly stopped working. What followed was a year of hauling water in 5-gallon buckets, to the point that the shocks on the family van blew out.
“No church, nothing. I was just hauling water,” he said. “I had no time for my family.” He also didn’t have the $55,000 necessary to drill down to reach the receding groundwater.
In April 2015, Garcia’s house was connected to a 2,500-gallon water tank that’s refilled by tanker truck once a week. Like hundreds of other homes in East Porterville, where some streets are unpaved and the sounds of barking dogs and braying livestock mingle with mariachi music, the black tank now takes up most of the Garcia family’s small front yard, an obelisk-like monument to the drought.
Just recently the town got a lifeline when officials announced it would be hooked up to the municipal water supply in nearby Porterville. All told, the state estimates it has spent more than $148 million bringing drinking water to Tulare County communities where municipal wells failed because of dropping groundwater levels.
One of the more recent crises flared in August in Woodville, a largely agricultural town of 1,700 surrounded by farm fields and irrigation pumps. One of its two drinking water wells suffered a mechanical failure that the utility district attributed to fluctuations in the water table.
Without enough flow to stave off bacterial contamination, town officials issued an advisory urging residents to boil water. It stayed in place for nearly three weeks before the well could be repaired. At the elementary school, across the street from a fruit and nut processing plant, signs on doors and above drinking fountains warned students, “Don’t drink the water.”
During the crisis, Ralph Gutierrez, manager of Woodville’s utility district, said that because there wasn’t enough pressure in the town’s waterlines, he had no choice but to cite residents he caught spritzing lawns and landscaping with garden hoses.
He noted with irony that even as he was fining residents for their water use, he recently counted 60 new agricultural wells just outside town during one week of his daily commute.
But the response he got was icy when he suggested to farmers at a recent community meeting that they accept limits on groundwater pumping.
“If looks could kill, I would have been crucified,” said Gutierrez, a familiar figure around town with his bushy mustache, weathered Dodgers cap and pack of smokes in his shirt pocket.
Others have pushed for local pumping limits, with similar results.
Kristin Dobbin, who works at a Visalia nonprofit advocacy group called the Community Water Center, has been pushing the Tulare Board of Supervisors to adopt a county ordinance that would put limits on groundwater. Supervisors have yet to cast a vote more than a year later.
Steve Worthley, one of the supervisors, said he’s wary of limiting groundwater pumping, given agriculture’s importance to Tulare County. Besides, there’s always the possibility that the rains might return and the groundwater pumping will taper off.
“There might become a weather pattern where we might be like Louisiana, where we might get more water than we know what to do with,” Worthley said. “So we want to be careful we don’t put into place laws that hamstring our ability to be the fruit basket of the nation.”
In conversations throughout the valley, it’s also clear that farmers seethe with anger at the government for not sending more surface water their way. While much of California remains unusually dry, precipitation levels returned to normal in Northern California last winter, bringing key reservoirs back to relatively healthy levels.
Farmers feel they haven’t gotten their fair share of that water. The reason? State and federal officials allowed more water to flow through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and out to the Pacific Ocean during portions of winter and spring to try to revive the native fish species, including salmon and smelt, whose numbers have plummeted in the drought.
“The farmers need the water, you know,” said Kulwant Gadri, a Tulare County almond grower who’s spending more than $1 million this year on new wells. If an almond orchard goes longer than two months without it, “the orchard is gone.”
The situation is getting so dire, said Arthur, the Fresno well driller, that he questions whether the 2014 state law placing limits on pumping will ever get implemented.
“They stop drilling wells, they’re going to kill this valley,” he said. “They may never get this law going.”
State officials say the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act will take effect. But, by design, it’s a go-slow approach and doesn’t directly put limits on drilling.
Instead, starting in 2020, newly formed groundwater management agencies overseeing basins deemed critically overdrafted must develop plans for making their aquifers sustainable within 20 years. “Sustainable” generally means districts must ensure groundwater basins don’t drop below their January 2015 levels, said David Gutierrez, who is supervising the rollout of the new law at the state Department of Water Resources.
Gutierrez defends the gradual approach, arguing that bringing a swift halt to groundwater pumping would cripple a farm economy that’s already struggling. After a string of record years, farm revenue last year fell by $9 billion statewide, in part because of water shortages but also because of declining prices in key commodities.
“We can’t afford to swing so quickly and so fast,” Gutierrez said. “We’re not going to turn it on a dime. ...We have to understand the social ramification of what we’re doing, too.”
The go-slow concept was driven home in the state Legislature this year. Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, introduced a bill sponsored by the Nature Conservancy that in effect would have put the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act on a faster track. Her bill, SB 1317, would have prohibited counties from issuing permits for new wells that would have contributed to “undesirable impacts” in critically overdrafted groundwater basins.
The bill narrowly passed the Senate, but failed to get a hearing in the Assembly amid significant opposition. Among those weighing in: the California Chamber of Commerce, California Farm Bureau Federation and associations representing rice, tomato, cotton and citrus growers.
Back in Woodville, utility manager Ralph Gutierrez says officials need to act soon to prevent more wells from failing in other impoverished communities. He fears regulators are forgetting that farmworkers in these towns play as important a role in California agriculture as the groundwater farmers are pumping into their crops.
“Without farming, would this community be here? No,” he said. “Would the farming happen if we didn’t have farmworkers? No. So, you know, I don’t know what the answer is, but we’ve got to find a happy medium somewhere, because we can’t exist without the other.”
JIM MILLER OF THE BEE’S CAPITOL BUREAU CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
agosto 26, 2016
Se escucha ladrido de perros…
Es un caluroso domingo en este seco valle agrícola y Erasto Terán, uno de los promotores del Centro Comunitario por el Agua -CWC por sus siglas en Inglés- visita la casa de su amigo, Everardo Suárez.
-¿Hola cómo estás? –pregunta Erasto.
Erasto lee en voz alta para Everardo y su esposa la solicitud que iniciaría los trámites para conectar su propiedad al sistema municipal de agua potable:
“El propósito de este proyecto es proveer para la comunidad del Este de Porterville, un suministro permanente de agua segura y limpia en su hogar…”
Everardo es un trabajador agrícola que ha vivido casi la mitad de sus 63 años en esta propiedad. Es uno de los cerca de dos mil jefes de familia, en su mayoría jornaleros agrícolas, que desde hace más de tres años se quedaron sin agua cuando a muchos se les secaron sus pozos. Suárez aceptó firmar.
-¿La tercera línea? –dice Everardo.
-Todas las líneas que están –responde Erasto.
“Oh, claro que sí que estoy contento, porque ya vamos a tener agua. Nos la van a conectar y eso es muy bueno”
Sin perder tiempo, Erasto Terán, veterano ex organizador de la Unión Campesina recibe una llamada de otro de los afectados por la sequía.
-¿Ya mandaron su forma?” –pregunta Erasto por el teléfono.
-No, apenas llegaron-, contesta el otro afectado.
-Mira, llena la forma de consentimiento y mañana me la das para entregarla a la ciudad y que empiecen el proceso de documentación.
Pero no todos los residentes aceptan así de fácil. De hecho, hasta la fecha sólo una de cada cinco familias ha iniciado los trámites. Una condición es que el jefe de familia dé permiso a las autoridades para que clausuren su pozo de manera permanente. Y aunque no habría costo para la familia, eso no le gusta a Marisela Corona, una joven trabajadora agrícola, casada y con tres hijos menores de diez años.
“Pues es que ahorita nosotros acabamos de hacer el pozo nuevo y gastamos mucho dinero”
¿Cuánto es lo que gastaron?
Marisela: “Cerca de 30 mil dólares”
Maricela reconoce que se arriesga a seguir dependiendo para sus necesidades del agua embotellada y para uso doméstico de lo que les da de emergencia el gobierno. Pero aun así se niega a firmar el consentimiento.
“Horita por lo pronto, no. Más adelante si fuera obligación, pues a ver si nos pudieran ayudar con el dinero que gastamos”
Sonido de gente llegando a junta comunitaria…
“Pásele, pásele a lo barrido…”
Tomás García es un residente y activista que después de medio día de tocar puertas recibe a uno de los más de 200 vecinos que se animaron a llegar a esta asamblea informativa. Recuerda cómo cuando se secó su pozo cambió la vida de su familia.
“Para llegar a tu casa prender la llave y no encontrar agua es muy difícil y estresante… Después de 10 -11 horas de trabajo, llegar a tu casa y estar vaciando cubetas de agua a los tanques para tener agua para el otro día… Tus hijos diciéndote que el agua para bañarse no les alcanza, que no tiene agua para ‘flushar’ los ‘toilets’, ies muy estresante!”
Tomás afirma que así pasaron más de seis meses.
“Mi familia me dijo, hey Daddy, vamos a movernos a la ciudad. Y le digo: m’ija, si me muevo de aquí nos vamos, está bien, pero el problema se nos va a quedar atrás”
Se decidieron organizar y con otros vecinos afectados formaron el East Porterville for Water Justice, en febrero pasado. Con la presión de ésta y varias organizaciones, el gobierno decidió destinar millones de dólares para suministrarles mensualmente agua de uso doméstico y agua embotellada. Pero ya que esta ayuda es temporal, consiguieron que la ciudad de Porteville aceptara extender su sistema de agua municipal al desatendido poblado, que queda en territorio del Condado de Tulare.
Sonido de asamblea…
Ryan Jensen, del CWC: “Gracias a todos por venir…”
Después de meses de cabildeo, por fin las autoridades conectaron al sistema a una familia. Esto fue la semana pasada. Dionisio Ramírez es el jefe de la primera familia donde ya fluye el agua de la llave.
“Pues contento de recibir el agua ya…”
Los afectados, activistas y autoridades tienen prisa, el tiempo se les acaba para motivar a más vecinos, señala Julie Philips, funcionaria de Porterville, quien también desafío el inclemente calor para tocar puertas.
“The September 1st deadline is the deadline to get the consent forms sign. We are really hoping we can get folks to sign this consent form and know what sort of interest there is”
(El primero de septiembre es la fecha límite para que firmen los consentimientos. En realidad esperamos que la gente los firme para medir el nivel de interés que existe en la comunidad).
Phillips asegura que por medio de esta consulta se trata de conocer la cantidad de agua que demandarían los nuevos usuarios y asegurar suficientes fondos para todos. Espera que este próximo domingo, más vecinos asistan a la asamblea para seguir llenando los consentimientos.
Pero la sequía y la contaminación siguen afectando a otras comunidades, dice Terán:
“Por ejemplo; Manson, Seville, Sultana, Kettle, Orosi…”
Lleno de optimismo, Tomás García espera que sus residentes tomen nota de su experiencia:
“Para que otras comunidades se unan, y también sigan a delante con su lucha. ¡Si se puede!”
By Kerry Klein
August 9, 2016
When we talk about water in the San Joaquin Valley, it’s often to highlight water problems, like dry wells, contaminated drinking water or, more recently, toxic algae in lakes and reservoirs. But the news isn’t all bad: local advocate Susana De Anda recently received an award from the White House for her work bringing clean water to San Joaquin Valley communities. She's the co-director and co-founder of the Community Water Center, a non-profit that lobbies policymakers, pursues grants and helps communities organize around gaining access to safe drinking water. FM89’s Kerry Klein sat down with De Anda at her office in Visalia to talk water, climate, and what it means to be a White House “Champion of Change.”
“Every year, over a million Californians are exposed to illegal and unsafe contaminants found in their drinking water,” says De Anda. “In addition to that, we're paying some really expensive water rates for toxic water. What that means is that our hard-working familias are having to pay twice for water: for a toxic water bill, and then, in addition to that, having to find additional drinking water just to have safe drinking water in the home.
“It is not okay to have nitrates in your drinking water. It is not safe to have arsenic or 1,2,3-TCP or anything of that nature in your drinking water. It's just not safe and it shouldn't be there.”
The White House recently named De Anda a Champion of Change for Climate Equity, an award she ascribes to the center’s focus on tailoring its water projects to each individual community it works with.
“Climate equity means that we're bringing about solutions to people impacted by climate change in a way that's practical and real,” she says. “We have to really sit around the table and figure out solutions that are going to be applicable to the unique situations of our communities. That's equity.
“And I think it's important to recognize that climate change is very real and it's happening right now with a lot of our community partners. A lot of families right now in California don't have running water, and I think it's important to understand that water quality and water supply go hand in hand.”
Want to learn more about what's in your school's water or understand the challenges California schools face in accessing safe water?
Please sign up below to join our Safe Water in Schools Team. We will keep you up to date about opportunities to test your school's water and apply for funding to receive new, filtered water bottle filling stations.
Here are some fast facts on water quality in California schools, taken from our report "Are We Providing Our School Kids Safe Drinking Water? An Analysis of California Schools Impacted by Unsafe Drinking Water."
- As many as 1,048,222 students attended schools impacted by water systems that did not meet primary safe drinking water standards during the period from 2003-2014.
- Bacterial and arsenic violations were the most common types of violations impacting schools, followed by the pesticide DBCP, disinfectant byproducts, and nitrates.
- Multiple-year violations were found in up to nine percent of schools, with some schools impacted for a decade or more.
- While the problem exists statewide, the Central Valley had both the greatest number and highest percentage of schools in the region impacted by unsafe drinking water.
- One in four schools in the Central Valley and one in three schools in the Tulare Lake region were impacted by unsafe drinking water.
- Schools impacted by unsafe drinking water had higher percentages of Hispanic and Latino students and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.
- State agencies do not currently have access to sufficient information to assess the magnitude of the problem and ensure that children have safe drinking water at school.
Read more: Are We Providing Our School Kids Safe Drinking Water? An Analysis of California Schools Impacted by Unsafe Drinking Water, a report by CWC & the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water
Please sign up for our Schools Team below so we can keep you in the loop about upcoming opportunities to test your school's water and get funding for safe water bottle filling stations.7 signatures
We just released our first Annual Report! Check it out to learn more about the great work done by community partners and staff in 2015, and to see what we're focusing on as 2016 continues. It also includes ways YOU can get involved in the water justice movement!
Click here the read the annual report.
July 27, 2016
Some feel it will not go far enough
Tulare County District 1 Supervisor Allen Ishida knows the importance of water and farming, but he also knows the situation the county has found itself in with dropping well levels.
Ishida, who also chairs the county’s Water Commission, said an ordinance to place some restrictions on well drilling is being drafted and could come before the county board of supervisors by the end of August.
That is not soon enough for Kristin Dobbin with the Community Water Center who feels with more domestic water wells failing every day, time is of the essence. Also, Dobbin feels the draft ordinance she has seen does not go far enough to curb the pumping of the underground water supply.
Dobbin addressed the supervisors at their meeting Tuesday, saying she was concerned with the delay in getting the ordinance before the board and debated.
“We know the underground water draft is a crisis,” she told supervisors after saying another 81 wells have failed in the county in just the past couple of weeks.
Tulare County has been the epicenter of the water crisis in California, with more than 1,500 well failures in the past two years. While many of those have been fixed, there are still hundreds of wells dry, especially in East Porterville.
Dobbin feels an ordinance restricting new wells is needed, but is disappointed the county may not take that aggressive of an approach.
“We would like protections to be as meaningful as possible,” she told The Recorder Tuesday.
Ishida said what will go before the board are two recommendations. The first is to ban any well drilling on ag land which has not been farmed in at least 10 years. Another recommendation is for the county to hire a hydrologist to establish a buffer zone between wells — domestic and ag — so one well does not impact another.
The ordinance has been debated for months and according to Dobbin, the first recommendation of a joint meeting of the Water Commission and the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee was for the county to develop an ordinance similar to one passed in Stanislaus County, which she said is more restrictive in permitting new wells. She would like the county to consider a similar ordinance.
That Stanislaus ordinance, she explained, requires a process where a new well request has to be evaluated as to its impact on the groundwater supply, before it can be approved. Exempt are wells which produce less than 2 acre feet of water a year, but the evaluation would apply to almost all ag wells. Dobbin said the burden of providing that study would be on the applicant.
“We would like to see sustainability,” she said, adding they feel the county is getting farther away from reducing the dependence on groundwater.
The drought and a lack of surface water for irrigation has forced farmers to depend more and more on pumping water from the underground to keep their crops alive. Thousands of acres of ag land were not farmed in the past two years because of a lack of water deliveries from the Friant water system. Farmers got no surface water in 2014 and 2015. Growers are getting water from the Friant-Kern Canal this summer.
Another recommendation, said Ishida, and this came from the Ag Committee, is to do nothing and wait for the Sustainable Groundwater Act (SGMA) to go into effect, but Ishida said that may not be until 2019 or 2020. SGMA will limit how much water can be pumped from the underground and current figures are limiting the pumping to a half of an acre foot of water per acre, per year. That is far too little to grow a crop or keep and orchard alive.
The county, as are most counties in the state, are coming up with their water basins and plans how to implement SGMA which has a deadline of 2020 to have plans in place.
He said the state is telling the county it must do something now to reduce the pumping of the underground water supply which has been dropping for years.
“They want us to take action,” he said. “The state has told us they expect us to do something about the depletion of the groundwater,” he added.
Ishida explained what they are considering will not have much of an impact. It will mostly impact foothill areas used as rangeland where a grower may now want to put in a deep well and plant an orchard.
The supervisor said the ordinance will have a very minimal impact on the groundwater supply.
Dobbin said the county has an opportunity to pass a stronger ordinance which may restrict new wells, especially ag wells, and reduce the amount of pumping of groundwater. She said a stricter ordinance could help those residents whose wells are dry.
Ishida said the matter will come before the board Aug. 23 or 30 for direction. Then hearings will be held and the earliest the ordinance would take effect is around the first of the year.
By Anne Di Grazia
July 26, 2016
It was once classified as a "safe" pesticide by Central Valley farmers and an "okay" cleaning product. But 1-2-3 TCP is far from safe. It is an colorless, odorless, cancer-causing chemical that has leaked into our groundwater.
Isabel Martinez and Jerry Tinoco live in Arvin and claim the water is contaminated.
"You know our people is dying that's not fair that's not fair at all," Martinez said.
"We have 1-2-3 TCP and Arsenic in the water, we don't have safe drinking water in Arvin," Tinoco said.
During the state water board presentation they learned 471 public water system wells across the state are tainted with 1-2-3 TCP. According to officials, 117 of those wells are here in Kern, the highest number in the state.
State Water Board spokesperson, Andrew DiLuccia, said those are private wells they are public wells that serve 15 or more connections.
To ensure clean drinking water the board is looking to develop a maximum contaminant level schedule to hold providers accountable, making sure they are testing water and monitoring constantly. Informing the public of 1-2-3 TCP contamination and treating appropriately.
"It will have a legal enforcement which we don't have right now in order to get water systems back in compliance," DiLuccia said.
A long term plan that won't start until 2018 but will give the community hope.
"It's a big step for them to come down to the valley, to the belly of the beast, and educate the residents, the people who are affected directly," Tinoco said.
The board said it will use public input to establish it's final maximum contaminant level recommendation. If you missed today's meeting and want more information click here.
By Cassie Carlisle
July 8, 2016
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Cal Water Service is quelling concerns of a carcinogen in Bakersfield's drinking water.
After 23ABC reported high levels of 1,2,3 trichloropropane in the system in June, the water company received dozens of calls and emails from residents.
"I took a number of calls, and I explained to our customers exactly what I am explaining to you," District Manager Rudy Valles said.
Valles said the main concern was the annual water report that showed a level 200 times the recommended level of the carcinogen 1,2,3 TCP in some areas of Bakersfield.
Valles explained that number was attained as a combination of the tested wells.
"Our system has 950 plus miles of water main and our wells are in various locations, so when we're pumping into the system, it's diluted," Valles said.
Valles added that if a well itself contained a level 100 times the recommendation, it would be shut down immediately.
"We haven't had to do that yet," Valles said.
The State Water Board is holding a meeting July 20th at City Hall to talk with the public about their concerns with TCP, and work on creating a maximum contaminant level.
Creating that level would then prompt water companies to comply and put filters in place to take out the chemical.
"We're ready, we just need that number," Valles said the level may not be set until 2017.
Once it is set, Valles said they already have designs ready with a granular activated carbon filter that will be put in place.
The company is waiting until that level is set, so they put the appropriate sized filter on their water lines.
Valles said he couldn't say how long levels of TCP have been in the water. Lawsuits between Shell Oil and various water companies throughout California say it started in the 1940's.
Shell Oil and Dow released a pesticide to kill nematodes, a microscopic worm that harms crops, and contains TCP. The chemical then contaminated aquifers.
If you would like to test your water, there are a couple labs in Bakersfield that provide the service. BC Lab s can test TCP levels in 10 days for $225.
We’re thrilled that State Water Board staff just announced their preliminary recommendation to set the most health-protective legal limit for the pesticide byproduct 1,2,3-TCP in drinking water! CWC's 1,2,3-TCP campaign team has been advocating and educating residents tirelessly to ensure the new drinking water standard adequately protects public health, so we were very enthusiastic to hear that the Board is prioritizing setting a drinking water standard that will help protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians who currently drink water contaminated by the dangerous carcinogen 1,2,3-TCP.
BUT we need your help to make sure the Board adopts this recommendation and not a weaker standard. Please take action by telling the State Water Board you support their preliminary recommendation of the most health protective drinking water standard for TCP -- 5 parts per trillion!
CWC staff and residents from the San Joaquin Valley showed up at the Board’s first public workshops in Sacramento, Bakersfield, and Fresno, and spoke in strong support of setting the MCL for 1,2,3-TCP at 5 ppt to protect community health.
At the Sacramento meeting, CWC's Asha Kreiling testified in strong support of the board's preliminary recommendation of 5 ppt and reminded the Board of the impacts and concerns faced by small, rural communities in the Valley dealing with this cancer-causing contaminant. She urged Board members to ensure that the MCL they adopt next year is ultimately set at 5 ppt. Our allies, including Clean Water Action, Pesticide Action Network, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, and Sierra Club of California, reiterated the urgency and importance of setting the MCL at the most health-protective level, and stressed that costs to treat this so-called "garbage chemical" should be borne by the responsible parties, Shell Oil and Dow Chemical, not local water systems nor their ratepayers.
At the Valley workshops in Bakersfield and Fresno, residents and local water board members turned out to express their support for the preliminary recommendation, and share concerns and emotional stories about high rates of cancer and illness in their communities where 1,2,3-TCP is present. Additionally, several media stories, including an op-ed by our very own Jerry Tinoco, were published in the past few weeks drawing significant attention to this important issue.
These past few weeks show the progress we've made toward securing a strong, health-protective MCL for the toxic drinking water contaminant 1,2,3-TCP, but this is just the beginning! While the State Water Board has made public health a priority with their preliminary recommendation, we expect push-back from the polluters who are responsible for cleaning up this contaminant, so we still have work our work cut out in Sacramento and in our impacted communities.
We expect the formal comment period -- when we will really need your support with letters, petitions, and public testimony! -- to begin this fall. That would put California on track to adopt the MCL in Spring 2017. Stay tuned for more updates, and take action for health if you haven't already!
By Luis Hernandez
July 28, 2016
Community Water Center’s Kristin Dobbin is calling on the Board of Supervisors to consider recommendations addressing groundwater overdraft.
Dobbin, who’s the center’s regional water management coordinator, spoke before the board on Tuesday, asking for the item to be placed on an upcoming meeting agenda.
“Time is of the essence,” she said. “The bottom line is that the board needs to take action.”
Local water district managers, water commissioners, representatives from the farm bureau and staff from the water center have been meeting for more than a year. There were three recommendations coming out of the meetings.
The most recent recommendation was passed June 15.
“That’s the time the Board of Supervisors could and should have taken action,” Dobbin said.
Over the last month, 80 domestic wells have failed. According to county totals, there have been 1,569 reported domestic wells failures since 2014.
“The supervisors wanted input,” Dobbin said. “It’s time to bring it back and make a decision.
While the first two recommendations called for immediate action, the latest called for status quo.
“That’s the confusing part,” Dobbin said. “[Commissioners] need to decide what language they want to do.”
On Feb. 8, the Joint Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee and water commission’s groundwater subcommission recommended adopting an emergency policy to consider the long-term impacts of new wells.
“We need more analysis of drilling,” Dobbin said.
On May 9, the water commission called for a two-fold recommendation also regarding water wells.
First, the recommendation calls for banning new well development on agriculture land not used in the last decade. Second, setting a minimum distance for a new well.
Dobbin used an example of how a lack of space between wells can affect a domestic well.
In Sultana, an agriculture well was installed within 300 feet of a backup well for service district. Dobbin said there’s concern the agriculture well will impact the domestic one.
“Their fear is it will draw water from the community well,” Dobbin said.
There have 5,434 drilling permits issued in Tulare County since Jan. 1, 2014.
On June 15, the APAC recommended no immediate action be taken. However, Dobbie said a decision should be made.
“We want to see an ordinance that’s inline with conservation,” Dobbin said. “We want to bring a policy reflecting the drought and with the reality of science.”
Supervisors will next meet on Aug. 9 and that’s when Dobbin wants the recommendations on the agenda.
More water center news
Susana De Anda, water center co-founder and co-executive director, was recognized as one of 10 White House Champions of Change for Climate Equity earlier this month.
Over the last 10 years, De Anda has worked with rural, low-income communities dealing with dry wells and increased drinking water supplies.
“The drought has laid bare the extreme climate vulnerability of rural, low-income communities in the San Joaquin Valley,” De Anda said. “At the Community Water Center, we’re working to ensure these residents are at the decision-making table so their communities can emerge from this drought more resilient to climate change.”
That’s where work needs to be done.
“Our communities are experiencing the impacts of climate change right now,” she said. “With climate change expected to cause more frequent and intense droughts, lawmakers need to create a sustainable funding source to address California communities’ long-term drinking water needs, including water system operation and maintenance costs. Securing a reliable water supply is crucial to advancing climate equity and ensuring that the frontline communities right here in California that are most vulnerable to this global climate crisis have a sustainable future.”
State officials praise De Anda’s selection.
“I’m delighted that Susana De Anda has received the White House Champion of Change Award in recognition of her leadership and tireless efforts to advance drinking water solutions for all Californians,” said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. “I am sure she will leverage this award to continue advocating for additional funding sources, effective water policies, improved planning processes, and essential legislation to advance drinking water solutions for low-income communities.”
By Jerry Tinoco
A few weeks ago, a Bakersfield television report on the carcinogenic water contaminant 1,2,3-trichloropropane (1,2,3-TCP) caught many local residents by surprise. The report shared details about the prevalence of this drinking water contaminant and highlighted that some wells exceeded the state’s public health goal for 1,2,3-TCP by 200 times. Many people were rightfully confused and concerned.
As a lifelong Arvin resident and the South Kern Community Programs Coordinator for the Community Water Center (CWC), I have been working alongside community members to set a health-protective drinking water standard for 1,2,3-TCP. A strong standard is needed so that we can start regulating this dangerous contaminant in our drinking water. This month, residents have opportunities to learn more about 1,2,3-TCP and get involved in advocacy to protect our communities from this chemical.
Right after the television report came out, I started getting calls from concerned residents in Kern County asking what 1,2,3-TCP is, where it comes from, and what we can do about it. In a sense, they had just taken an important step toward addressing this issue, which is to educate themselves.
Before talking about what we can do to address 1,2,3-TCP, I want to share a brief history of this contaminant to help South Kern residents understand why a colorless, odorless and tasteless manmade chemical is in our drinking water. Classified as a carcinogen in 1999, 1,2,3-TCP nevertheless remains unregulated by the State of California which lacks a drinking water standard. 1,2,3-TCP was a pesticide ingredient that got into the Central Valley’s groundwater through extensive pesticide use prior to the 1980s.
What makes this particularly frustrating is that 1,2,3-TCP was only a byproduct in these pesticides. Since it was not an active ingredient, 1,2,3-TCP served no purpose, making this a horrible example of corporate irresponsibility and negligence. Two corporations – Shell and Dow – decided to leave this byproduct in their pesticides rather than properly disposing of it as a hazardous waste. Their choice to do so has left South Kern residents and hundreds of thousands of Californians exposed to a chemical known to cause irritation and burning of the skin, nose, eyes, and throat – and cancer. Kern County now has the unfortunate honor of being the county with the greatest number of 1,2,3-TCP detections in California, with 17 contaminated community water systems, including those serving Arvin, Bakersfield, and Greenfield.
And yes, drinking the water once or twice won’t kill you. Hazardous effects come from prolonged exposure to this contaminant. Many people live in Kern County their whole lives. Their roots are here. Unfortunately those roots are grounded in contaminated water. Still, no one should have to choose between staying in their hometown and living somewhere else with safe water.
So how can we prevent people from having to make that decision? Now that we know this contaminant is here, what can we do?
First, you can use bottled water for drinking, cooking and washing dishes. Unfortunately, unlike with Arsenic, there are no 1,2,3-TCP filters certified for in-home use because manufactures, who make filters for Arsenic, can’t make filters because California lacks a drinking water standard for this contaminant. In order for individuals, families and communities to deal with 1,2,3-TCP, we need the State Water Board to set a health-protective drinking water standard, or Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), for this contaminant.
The second thing you can do is to get involved in the process of setting that MCL. The State Water Resources Control Board will be hosting a workshop on July 26th in Bakersfield to hear residents’ input and concerns. This is our opportunity to be our own advocates and let our voices be heard. In preparation for that meeting, the Community Water Center will be hosting two community meetings on July 21st and 22nd in Arvin and Greenfield, respectively, so that you can learn more about this contaminant and the process of establishing an MCL.
Setting the MCL will put in motion the series of events that will finally rid us of this contaminant. With an MCL, filters can be certified to treat 1,2,3-TCP, water providers can be required to treat their water systems, and the corporations responsible for this contaminant can be held accountable for their negligence.
We need to let those in power know that we do not want harmful chemicals in our water, and that we deserve an MCL that prioritizes our health. The Community Water Center and our partners are urging the state to set the MCL at 5 parts per trillion to protect community health. If we want to achieve this goal, I need my neighbors to join me at these upcoming meetings so that we can send a strong message to the State Water Board. So whether you’re from Arvin, Bakersfield, Delano, or anywhere in Kern County, I encourage you to come out, learn more, and let your voices be heard to ensure everyone has safe water.
CWC Community Workshop
Friday, July 22, 6:00 p.m.
Rexland Community Center
325 Fairview Rd.
Bakersfield, California 93307
State Water Board Public Workshop
Tuesday, July 26, 2016 – 1:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Kern County Public Health Department, Mojave/Sierra Room
1800 Mt. Vernon Avenue, Bakersfield 93306
Learn more and join CWC’s action team here or give me a call at (661) 345-9976.
July 19, 2016
The California State Water Resources Control Board will soon set a maximum contaminant level for 1,2,3 Trichloropropane, or 1,2,3 TCP.
It's currently found in industrial solvents and cleaning agents, but it was once found in two popular soil fumigants made by Dow Chemical and Shell Oil Company.
The pesticide byproduct contaminated groundwater throughout the Central Valley. State water regulators have found 1,2,3 TCP in 94 public drinking water systems in 16 counties.
Right now, water systems in California are only required to notify residents if the chemical is found at a certain health-based advisory level.
“But they are not required to do anything about it. They’re not required to treat it," says Asha Kreiling with the environmental justice group Community Water Action. "It’s totally legal to be in the water, although we know this is a human carcinogen. Having a MCL [Maximum Contaminant Level] established will require public water systems to treat the water.”
The State Water Resources Control Board will hold public meetings in Sacramento, Fresno, and Bakersfield this month to discuss what the legal limit should be.
Environmental groups want regulators to set the lowest and most protective level possible so that the companies responsible for the contamination are paying for treatment.
Regulators are expected to make an official recommendation in the fall.
By Andrea Castillo
July 19, 2016
Original story: http://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/article90643927.html
As California regulators plan to set a legal limit on a cancer-causing chemical found in Valley water systems, clean water advocates are urging residents to attend coming public workshops on the issue.
The State Water Resources Control Board will hold a public workshop on July 28 at the Woodward Park Library in Fresno to discuss the development of the drinking water standard for the chemical. The board is also holding workshops in Sacramento and Bakersfield.
The chemical, called 1, 2, 3-Trichloropropane, seeped into groundwater as a pesticide byproduct. It was added to the state’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer in 1999 but remains unregulated.
Andria Ventura of the national organization Clean Water Action said the development of a legal standard has been long delayed. She said the limit is necessary to protect the public and ensure that the financial burden doesn’t fall on them, but on the companies that created TCP.
“This is a story of severe drinking water contamination in some of our most vulnerable communities that could have totally been avoided,” Ventura said.
TCP, a waste product from the plastic-making process, was in a widely used farm fumigant until the 1980s. It was discovered in drinking water during the 1990s and is widespread in the Valley and other parts of California.
Many cities, including Fresno, Clovis, Visalia, Bakersfield and Stockton, have sued over the dangerous toxin. Dow Chemical and Shell Oil, which are defendants in the lawsuits, manufactured the chemical. There is evidence that TCP was added to the fumigant instead of being properly disposed of decades ago.
The California Department of Public Health has a goal of keeping TCP to levels in the parts per trillion, which is 1,000 times lower than the limit set for many chemicals. It could take hundreds of millions of dollars to treat the water systems contaminated with TCP.
Ventura said not all potentially contaminated water systems have been tested, based on measurement limitations. “The problem could be significantly larger than we know,” she said.
Asha Kreiling of the nonprofit Community Water Center, said the Visalia nonprofit has been working for the past eight months in Valley communities affected by TCP. She said people often are concerned and fearful for their health. Many of the communities have high rates of cancer, she said, and residents are mostly farmworkers.
“Often it feels like we’ve just added one more thing for the residents to be concerned about,” she said.
Sources for statistics in the infographic above can be found here.