Safe water is a basic human right, not a privilege.
All communities have access to safe, clean, and affordable water.
The Community Water Center acts as a catalyst for community-driven water solutions through organizing, education, and advocacy in California.
Safe water is a basic human right, not a privilege. Yet each year, more than one million Californians are exposed to unsafe drinking water from the taps in their homes and schools. The water crisis impacts low-income communities the most, making it harder for working families to get by. Though water problems exist statewide, they are concentrated in California’s agricultural communities, which are overwhelmingly Latino, typically high-poverty and lacking in political voice. Those most affected by the lack of safe water are also those least able to afford the extra cost of alternative water sources.
The Community Water Center (CWC) believes all communities should have access to clean, safe, and affordable water. That’s why we work as a catalyst for community-driven water solutions through organizing, education, and advocacy in California. We build strategic grassroots capacity to address water challenges in small, rural, low-income communities and communities of color.
Since opening our doors in 2006, CWC has worked with local residents from over 80 California communities to improve access to safe, clean, and affordable water. We have trained thousands of residents as clean water advocates and provided technical and legal assistance to over 50 local water boards and community-based organizations struggling with how to manage efficient and accountable water systems in their communities. CWC has also served as legal counsel to a number of small, low-income communities with vulnerable or failing water systems. As a result, at least 18 communities have successfully secured over $17 million in state funding for drinking water projects, advancing sustainable safe drinking water solutions for approximately 13,340 residents in the San Joaquin Valley. In 2009, CWC published a comprehensive Guide to Community Drinking Water Advocacy in both English and Spanish. This highly acclaimed guide has been distributed to hundreds of individuals, groups, and local water boards.
CWC also coordinates the coalition la Asociación de Gente Unida por el Agua (AGUA), which is comprised of representatives from 20 impacted communities and nine nonprofit organizations, as well as youth and community-based organizations, all focused on addressing the root causes of unsafe and unaffordable drinking water for local communities.
The Community Water Center was founded in 2006 to develop and support community-driven solutions to address the ongoing drinking water problems of California’s San Joaquin Valley communities. In 2004, Laurel Firestone, an attorney, received an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to start the Rural Poverty Water Project at the Delano office of the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment (CRPE). At CRPE, Firestone teamed up with community organizer Susana De Anda. Together, they successfully helped many individual communities, including Ducor, Tooleville, Tonyville, and Cutler-Orosi, obtain safe, clean, and affordable drinking water. Firestone and De Anda worked to empower residents to force their water boards to clean up residential water that was black and smelled of sewage, secure funding to drill new wells, issue compliance orders requiring water providers to deliver potable water to residents year-round, force the repeal of unconstitutional ordinances that discriminated against extended families, and push for language-access policies to allow Spanish-speaking residents to effectively participate in board meetings.
Over time it became clear that the problems faced by these communities belonged to a landscape of unsafe and unjust water conditions that extends throughout the San Joaquin Valley. Due to the scale and complexity of this situation, there was a critical need for an organization dedicated full-time to working with communities on their water challenges. In September 2006, the Rural Poverty Water Project spun off from CRPE and became the Community Water Center, an independent non-profit entity.
Today, the Community Water Center continues to work towards realizing the Human Right to Water for all communities in California through education, organizing, and advocacy. Our main office is located at the heart of San Joaquin Valley in Visalia, and in 2012 we opened a second office in Sacramento in order to bring our advocacy to the statewide level. In 2018, we expanded our on the ground organizing by opening a third office in Watsonville. Learn more about our current work here.