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.
For immediate release:
June 28, 2016
Ari Neumann, Assistant Director
RCAC Community & Environmental Services
(916) 447-9832 ext. 1032
Asha Kreiling, Policy & Communications Analyst
Community Water Center
California budget includes crucial funds for water in schools
More than one hundred thousand California students will have access to safe drinking water
Sacramento, Calif. -- Yesterday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the $107.9 billion 2016-2017 state budget and supporting trailer bills including a $10 million additional investment to increase Californians’ access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water.
The Drinking Water Advocates Coalition, which represents rural water advocates, urban water districts, education and children’s organizations, and environmental justice, health and equity organizations applauds the Governor and Legislature for taking these important steps to address California’s drinking water crisis. We especially appreciate the work of Assemblymembers Bloom and Ting for helping secure this much needed funding. Their leadership along with their colleagues from the Senate and staff from all three branches helped to make this a reality.
The investments included in the budget will provide safe drinking water for more than one hundred thousand California students. For many students who live in small, low-income communities impacted by unsafe drinking water, school is the only option for access to free, fresh drinking water, which is essential to health and educational attainment.
The budget includes $9.5 million for improved water access and quality in schools and an additional $500,000 for nonprofit organizations to provide support for outreach and technical assistance. Additionally, $565,000 was allocated for four new positions at the State Water Resources Control Board to improve drinking water monitoring and data collection.
The coalition expressed its gratitude for these critical investments, while pledging to continue its work to advance the Human Right to Water. More than one million Californians are impacted by unsafe drinking water each year. Sustainable solutions are still necessary to address communities’ long-term drinking water needs, including water system operation and maintenance, metering and leak detection for small, low-income communities and households, and funds for low-income Californians reliant on small water systems and private wells impacted by unsafe or unreliable water.
Statements on these budget investments are available here from members of the Drinking Water Advocates Coalition.
Rural Community Assistance Corporation
RCAC is a nonprofit organization that provides training, technical and financial resources and advocacy so rural communities can achieve their goals and visions. Headquartered in West Sacramento, California, RCAC serves rural communities in the western United States and the Pacific islands. RCAC has strong core services and expertise in housing, environmental infrastructure (water, wastewater and solid waste), leadership training, economic development and financing. To find out more about RCAC, visit www.rcac.org.
Community Water Center
The Community Water Center (CWC) is a non-profit environmental justice organization based in California’s San Joaquin Valley, whose mission is to act as a catalyst for community-driven water solutions through organizing, education, and advocacy. CWC’s fundamental goal is to ensure that all communities have access to safe, clean, and affordable water. CWC helps build strategic grassroots capacity to address water challenges in small, rural, low-income communities and communities of color. For more information, visit CWC’s website at www.communitywatercenter.org.
By Ian James
June 6, 2016
Original story: www.desertsun.com/story/news/environment/2016/06/04/bill-would-ban-new-wells-parts-california/85371060/
Two years ago, California adopted historic legislation to move toward managing the state’s aquifers, many of which are declining rapidly due to overpumping.
But local agencies are being given a long grace period to meet the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act – in many cases until 2022 to adopt plans for sustainable water use, and an additional 20 years to bring their aquifers into balance.
Despite the law, thousands of new wells have been drilled across California and groundwater levels have continued dropping in many areas.
A bill approved by the state Senate on Thursday would clamp down by prohibiting the drilling of most new wells in places where aquifers are in “critical overdraft,” and by requiring cities and counties in other areas to start requiring permits to put checks on the proliferation of wells.
“There seems to be a real gold rush – or a water rush – to dig as many wells as possible before the deadline of 2022, at which point there will be a groundwater association in place to regulate or control that,” said Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who introduced the bill. Without the legislation, she predicted that more and more wells will be dug in order to avoid restrictions during the next several years.
The 2014 groundwater law applies to 127 groundwater basins that state officials have deemed high- or medium-priority. In all of those areas, Wolk’s legislation calls for cities and counties to start requiring permits for well-drilling by January 2018. Applicants would need to show that more pumping wouldn’t have detrimental effects.
The bill, SB 1317, would ban most new wells in 21 basins that state officials have classified as “critically overdrafted.” Those basins, which range from Merced to Kern County to the Borrego Valley, have been given until 2020 to adopt their 20-year plans for achieving sustainable management – defined as managing groundwater in ways that avoid problems such as chronic declines or saltwater intrusion.
“It applies to brand new wells, new straws that are being placed into the groundwater in aquifers that we know are in critical condition. Why would you do that? Why would anybody want to do that?” Wolk said in a telephone interview. “Areas that we know have critical water supply issues really do have to be sure and verify that it’s safe to put more straws in the ground.”
Billy Napier and Thomas Clements drill an agricultural well in Tulare County in 2015. Well drillers have been busy replacing wells that have gone dry in the San Joaquin Valley. (Photo: Ian James/The Desert Sun)
The ban would not apply to the drilling of wells for drinking water. Counties that have adopted ordinances to manage aquifers would also be exempt.
Members of the Senate voted 21-17 to approve the bill, and it’s headed next to the Assembly.
The legislation has been opposed by a variety of organizations, such as the Agricultural Council of California, the Association of California Water Agencies and the California Building Industry Association.
But Wolk said even the bill’s opponents have acknowledged that unlimited well-drilling is a problem.
“I’m waiting for their suggestions,” she said. “The status quo is not acceptable.”
The five-year drought has multiplied the stresses on aquifers across California, pushing groundwater levels to record lows in many parts of the state.
In the San Joaquin Valley, farms have been pumping heavily to make up for the lack of surface water, and thousands of people in rural communities have been left with dry wells, forcing them to install water tanks and rely on deliveries from tanker trucks.
In the Coachella Valley, state regulators have listed three aquifer sub-basins – Indio, Mission Creek and San Gorgonio Pass – as being “medium” priority. A fourth groundwater sub-basin, Desert Hot Springs, is classified by the state as being a relatively lower priority.
Several local agencies – including the Coachella Valley Water District, the Desert Water Agency, the Indio Water Authority and Coachella Water Authority – have filed notices with the state to begin the process of becoming the designated groundwater agencies for the areas where they provide water.
The drought has also prompted greater awareness about the longstanding lack of access to clean drinking water in many poor rural communities.
One new bill passed by the Senate, SB 1318, is intended to remedy the problem by requiring Local Agency Formation Commissions to recommend plans for bringing water or sewage systems to disadvantaged communities. The bill, also introduced by Wolk, would add to legislation approved last year that gave the state new authority to require the consolidation of water systems when communities have unsafe drinking water.
The latest measure is aimed at pressing agencies to develop plans to serve unincorporated communities such as the trailer parks that dot the farmland of the eastern Coachella Valley.
In parts of Thermal, for instance, the tap water is tainted with hazardous contaminants such as naturally occurring arsenic. For years, many people have been buying bottled water.
The bill would require local agencies to review the adequacy of water and wastewater systems and collect information about communities that need help.
“It would create a roadmap for finally getting water and wastewater services to hundreds of communities in California,” said Phoebe Seaton, co-director of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, an organization backing the measure.
Wolk said it’s an embarrassment that California, despite its wealth, has so many people still living without clean, safe drinking water.
“There are a lot of different reasons, but the fact is many of these communities are poor and underserved and disadvantaged, and it’s time to put an end to that,” Wolk said. “We have to come up with a plan to take care of them, and there is some state money available for that now.”A separate measure approved by the Assembly this week would use 10 percent of fines collected by the California Environmental Protection Agency to pay for environmental projects in disadvantaged communities. The bill, AB 2781, was introduced by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella.
“I know first-hand that many of our communities continue to be disproportionately burdened by pollution,” Garcia said in a statement. He said creating a fund for disadvantaged communities would help direct money to projects in areas with the greatest needs.
By Judy Belk
June 8, 2016
Original story: www.huffingtonpost.com/judy-belk/waterless_b_10111316.html
Angie’s eyes filled with tears almost the moment we were introduced. We were standing in the Emmanuel Church parking lot in East Porterville, an unincorporated, impoverished neighborhood in Tulare County, California. If you want to see what happens to a community when its residents don’t have access to the most basic human necessity—clean water—make a trip to East Porterville.
“I watch them every evening—entire families coming together to take showers over there.” Angie pointed to six portable shower stalls that her social services agency had installed. “Some come early in the morning before school. But mostly they come at night since many are farmworkers, and they only have one car or truck. I see young kids wrapped in damp towels, shivering in the backseat, waiting for their parents to take their turn showering. It breaks my heart.”
“How many families?” I asked.
“Almost a hundred a day,” she explained while apologizing for the tears that were now flowing down her young face. “Some days I can’t bear it. We go through about five or six pallets of bottled water a day, too.”
I had made my way to the church parking lot at the invitation of the Community Water Center, a Central Valley-based non-profit advocacy organization working to organize residents around the principle that all Californians have a right to safe, clean and affordable drinking water. It’s a right that seems out of grasp for the residents of East Porterville and many other forgotten water-deprived communities throughout the Central Valley, where some residents have gone as long as a decade without reliable access to clean water.
How did we get to this point in California? Why, in one of the most prosperous states in the wealthiest country in the world, must families wait in line to use a portable shower stall and donated water in a church parking lot in order to bathe? Contrary to what you might think, drought is not the only culprit. Even in the face of drought, golf courses and backyard fountains across the state have continued to benefit from access to water. Three deeply rooted injustices have created this water crisis in unincorporated areas like East Porterville, a crisis that is stripping Californians of their dignity and threatening their well-being.
Injustice Number 1: structural racism. Millions of people—and disproportionately people of color—live in unincorporated areas of our state. (As an example, about 75 percent of the East Porterville population is Latino.) Yet for decades, local governments have debated—and abdicated—their responsibilities in serving the water-system needs of these communities. The invisible city lines drawn by government have created pockets of poverty and deprivation manifest in the lack of access to clean water. Whether intentional or not, the persistent disenfranchisement of communities of color is a key part of the problem.
Injustice Number 2: unreliable infrastructure. Communities in unincorporated areas are too often on the wrong side of the tracks when it comes to access to adequate water systems. While the people of East Porterville struggle to find enough clean water, their neighbors in the City of Porterville aren’t experiencing the same challenge. The problem? Many residents in unincorporated areas depend on private, unregulated wells as their only source of water. But these wells become unreliable in times of drought, and even when groundwater is plentiful, many wells are contaminated from fertilizers, animal waste and pesticides. This points to a third injustice plaguing communities with little or no access to reliable water systems.
Injustice Number 3: environmental pollutants. Nitrate contamination in groundwater is rampant throughout the Central Valley due to agricultural fertilizers. The contamination is compounded by animal waste, which seeps into the underground water supply. The Central Valley is big dairy country, where a large dairy farm can house as many as 10,000 cows. That’s a lot of manure that finds its way into the underground water tables. Nitrate contamination has been linked to hypertension, some forms of cancer, birth defects, and “blue baby syndrome,” a condition that reduces the ability of the blood to carry oxygen and can be fatal for infants.
So what’s the solution? As we toured neighborhoods in East Porterville, we saw large green non-potable water tanks on the front lawns of many homes, tanks provided by community groups with government subsidies. This type of intervention is, at best, a temporary solution, and even these efforts are limited to homeowners only, and are not enough to meet the needs of all residents, including renters - hence the temporary showers and bottled water deliveries.
The reality is that access to water is another inequity California must face. There are more than enough resources to go around. Even in our drought-weary state, there is sufficient clean water available that no family should have to go without simply because they live in the wrong zip code. The community organizers I met in East Porterville pointed out that clean, safe water is flowing right through water-starved communities, in aqueducts situated just yards away from where water is most needed. But water rights are required to tap into that source, and these communities have neither the clout nor resources to gain access.
One solution is investment in the communities that lack reliable access to safe water. We need to muster the political will to change the institutionalized injustice that restricts access to this basic human need in many of our state’s poorest neighborhoods. Thanks to the work of the Community Water Center, committed folks like Angie, and empowered residents, the dynamic is slowly changing as residents are educated about what’s in their water, how to put pressure on government to serve their neighborhoods, and how to organize to make their voices heard. All of us—government, philanthropy, business and private citizens together—need to do our parts.
Until then, it’s enough to make you weep.
By Kimberly Beltran
June 6, 2016
(Calif.) Drinking fountains at some schools in Fresno Unified have been shut off for nearly two years due to lead and uranium contamination in the water.
El Camino Real Elementary School in Arvin, an agricultural community near Bakersfield, has given students durable water bottles and installed state-of-the-art filling stations that filter out harmful levels of arsenic found in the water supply there.
And, just last February, Healdsburg officials announced that they had begun providing bottled water to students last fall after detecting lead contamination at the elementary school’s drinking fountains.
These are but a few of the estimated 980 to 1,690 California schools possibly impacted by unsafe drinking water between 2003 and 2014, according to a new report state lawmakers are using to push for funding to help districts provide clean water.
Last week, the Assembly Budget Committee included in its 2016-17 funding plan $10 million for a grant program to provide filtered water filling stations at more than 100 of the most severely impacted schools – most of which, according to the analysis, are in the state’s Central Valley.
“We see this as something that is a vital need for the state to be addressing,” said Jenny Rempel, spokeswoman for the Community Water Center and lead coordinator of the report that was the subject of a legislative briefing in Sacramento last week. “While the additional funding we are seeking from the general fund is not enough to solve the problem, it would really help to make a dent.”
Multiple legislative attempts over the years to mandate a statewide school water testing system have failed to overcome the barrier of costs, ostensibly hundreds of millions of dollars that would be needed not only implement a new program but to upgrade or replace decades-old infrastructure likely contributing to the contamination.
The 2014 Flint, Michigan water crisis, however, has bolstered efforts both in Congress and in individual states to pass school water quality testing laws. No states require schools to test their water for lead, according to a recent story from the Associated Press about schools in Washington state.
Flint residents – including some 6,000 to 12,000 children – were exposed to dangerous levels of lead when the city in 2014 switched to a new municipal utility that used a different source – the Flint River – to supply water. Water officials failed to add an anti-corrosive material and the improperly treated water supply caused lead to leach from aging pipes into homes, schools and businesses.
Experts agree there is no safe level of lead. In children, the highly-toxic metal can cause lasting problems with growth and development that can affect behavior, hearing and learning as well as slow their growth. In adults, lead poisoning can damage the brain and nervous system, the stomach and the kidneys, according to medical experts. It can also cause high blood pressure and other health problems.
The Environmental Protection Agency sets legal limits on over 90 contaminants in drinking water. The legal limit for a contaminant reflects the level that protects human health and that water systems can achieve using the best available technology. EPA rules also set water-testing schedules and methods that public water systems must follow.
According to the Community Water Center’s Rempel, findings from the group’s new analysis should serve as a wake-up call for state officials.
The 979 to 1,688 schools identified as having possibly been impacted by unsafe drinking water represent up to 24 percent of the schools reviewed in the study, researchers point out. “That means these schools were correlated with a water system that served water that violated a primary safe drinking water standard,” authors wrote.
Half-a-million to more than one million students attended schools whose water systems did not always meet primary safe drinking water standards, according to the report. Bacterial and arsenic violations were the most common types of violations impacting schools, followed by the pesticide DBCP, disinfectant byproducts, and nitrates.
Neither the state nor local jurisdictions maintain a record of school water system providers, so the study matches 6,974 California schools with public water systems through both available public information and spatial correlation. “It then uses spatial analysis to overlay water quality violations to assess the magnitude of water quality violations on schools,” researchers said.
Legislation by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, would authorize a General Fund expenditure of $10 million – money that schools could use install filtered water bottle-filling stations, new drinking water infrastructure, point-of-use or point-of-entry treatment devices or plumbing and repairs.
The investment, supporters note, could provide funding for roughly 1,000 filtered water bottle-filling stations, enough for each of the 103 to 144 schools impacted in 2014 to install seven to nine safe water access points.
The analysts also pointed out that school water-quality problems could actually be worse than the report indicates depending upon the amount of lead and copper previously used in pipes and drinking fountains. These contaminants were not included in the study because there are no state-wide monitoring or tracking programs for these distribution system hazards in schools.
Some of the other findings in the report included:
Six to 9 percent of schools were impacted in multiple years, some for a decade or more. The number of schools impacted by recurring bacterial violations (i.e., the water systems serving them experienced bacterial violations in more than one year) was between 254 and 332; 177 to 207 schools were impacted by recurring arsenic violations.
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. Many of these students also suffer from other forms of pollution including some of the worst air quality in America and other environmental health hazards.
The 320 schools that still operate their own water systems (e.g., a single well run by the school) were more likely to have a water quality violation and to have recurring violations than schools receiving water from larger community water systems.
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.
In addition to recommending that the legislature appropriate funding for water filtration systems, authors of the study also call on the State Water Resources Control Board and the California Department of Education to work together to develop a monitoring and tracking system that includes testing for lead and copper.
They also say decision-makers should target resources to schools and small water systems to help them consolidate into larger regional systems that can more reliably provide safe water.
The Community Water Center, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Visalia, produced the school water survey in partnership with the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, which is based in Sacramento.
Hosting a fundraising party is a great way to bring together friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues in a comfortable environment to talk about the Community Water Center and the movement for water justice. Fundraising parties are a special way to support a cause you care about by inspiring others to join you in your support. Fundraising parties can be fun and simple to put on, and they provide meaningful support to the Community Water Center.
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