By Courtenay Edelhart, The Bakersfield Californian
January 29, 2015
Clean drinking water is something many Americans take for granted, but in areas such as south Kern County access to safe water is not guaranteed.
A new program called Agua4All is attempting to address that. At a ceremony Thursday in Lamont, the California Endowment, the Rural Community Assistance Corporation and the Community Water Center unveiled the first of what eventually will be 60 water bottle filling stations in the area.
The filtered water taps will be sprinkled in high-traffic public areas throughout the region including parks, schools, clinics and Boys & Girls clubs. Residents can fill up water jugs there free of charge.
A number of dignitaries gathered to dedicate the first one at Lamont Park. Another one at Rexland Acres Park southeast of Bakersfield also became available Thursday, and the others will be rolled out in the next few months.
"This is a game changer for the people of south Kern," said Arvin City Councilman Jose Eurrola. "Access to clean drinking water is a human right.
"My family buys potable drinking water and I know a lot of others do, too, but there are people who know the tap water is unsafe who can't afford to buy water, so they drink it, anyway. That's an injustice."
The groundwater in southern Kern County contains troubling levels of arsenic, which is known to cause cancer. Some arsenic occurs naturally, but agricultural practices in rural areas may contribute to further contamination, said Annalisa Robles, program manager for the California Endowment.
"It's dangerous to drink out of the tap," Robles said, but residents still have to pay a monthly bill for residential water service. When they buy bottled water, "they're paying for water twice, and that's really unfortunate because these are heavily low-income areas with a lot of disadvantaged families."
The poor water quality may also contribute to obesity and diabetes, Robles said, as some families opt for sugary beverages instead of the bad water.
"It really is a health issue," Robles said. "We want our kids to get off the couch and go outside and exercise, but we all know how hot it is out here. The kids need to stay hydrated."
The California Endowment, and grants from a variety of other sources, are paying the $700,000 cost of pilot programs in southern Kern County and the Eastern Coachella Valley, but the intent is to make Agua4All water filling stations permanent in all parts of the state needing them, said Stan Keasling, CEO of the Rural Community Assistance Corporation.
"We want to not only continue this, but expand it," he said.