Five years ago California became the first state in the nation to recognize access to safe, clean drinking water as a human right. Today, the reality for hundreds of communities throughout the state is they have tap water that’s too contaminated to drink and no money to clean it up. Over 300 mostly rural and economically disadvantaged California communities have water that has dangerous levels of arsenic, uranium, or nitrates, which have drastic health implications. The biggest barrier in solving this issue is that these small communities simply do not have the money to build and run water treatment systems. The solution is Senate Bill 623, introduced by Senator Monning, which would establish a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund and subsidize the operation and maintenance costs of cleanup efforts in these communities. Many environmental groups such as Community Water Center and Clean Water Action are backing SB 623 in hopes it bill will bring relief to these communities, where residents feel their calls for help have long been ignored. Currently, SB623 is sitting in the House Rules Committee until the legislature is back in session next year. Continuing to fight for and support SB623 is crucial for its successful passage next year!
Read more here
In Alpaugh, a small California town home to about 1,000 people, Sandra Meraz is one of many who struggles daily with not having safe and affordable drinking water. The water in Alpaugh is contaminated by arsenic, and Meraz refuses to drink or cook with the water, resulting in her having to pay a large amount of money on bottled water, while still paying a monthly water bill. The passage of SB 623 would solve this problem not only for Alpaugh but also for over 300 other California communities who also struggle with lack of safe, clean, and affordable drinking water. SB 623 establishes a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, which would make short- and long-term drinking water solutions available to low-income Californians who lack safe and affordable drinking water. Further, SB 623 would assist with operations and maintenance costs for low-income communities that can’t afford treatment for their drinking water.
Check out Sandra’s full op-ed in The Hanford Sentinel here
Arvin is one of 42 communities in Kern County impacted by unsafe drinking water. Mayor Jose Gurrola grew up in Arvin and has experienced firsthand the struggle that comes from living in a town with undrinkable water. Arsenic contaminates the water of Arvin, and drinking water with arsenic has unforgiving consequences, including: respiratory illness, reduced mental functioning, and cancer. No one should have to turn on the tap to water that can lead to such horrible outcomes. SB 623 aids communities like Arvin by ensuring that all Californians have access to the clean drinking water that they need and deserve. It prioritizes low-income communities that do not meet primary drinking water standards or have access to affordable water.
Check out Mayor Gurrola’s full op-ed in The Bakersfield Californian here
Jerry Tinoco discusses Arvin's long-standing problem of arsenic contamination and the financial challenges for many Arvin residents of acquiring adequate water filters. Watch the KERO interview here: http://www.turnto23.com/news/local-news/arvin-water-district-working-on-longterm-solution-that-includes-new-wells?autoplay=true
By Amy McDonald
Deseret News National
In more than two decades working at a Central California food bank, Sandy Beals has never seen anything like this spring.
Last month alone, FoodLink of Tulare County served 22,000 people who came in for food — 5,000 more than it usually serves each month and a 12 percent increase from the same month last year. For Beals, who runs the food bank, the spike in hunger traces back to one thing: drought.
“We didn’t think we would hit a big peak until August, but it’s already started to climb,” Beals says. "And it’s going to get a lot worse" as the end of the crop season normally drives more migrant workers to FoodLink's services.
Tulare County is just one of the hundreds of counties across the country experiencing drought, including every county in California, according to ratings by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Conditions are such that Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in January.
The drought situation is driving up prices nationwide for produce grown in the Golden State's Central Valley and other agricultural areas stricken by drought, such as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. And among rising food costs, access to clean water and growing unemployment, the drought’s hardest-hit victims are the country’s poor.
"We like to say we live in the greatest country in the world," says Melinda Laituri, a geography professor at Colorado State University who specializes in disaster management. "But in many ways, we manifest all the very worst things. (Drought) impacts the everyday life of everyone. But it has more impact on those who have fewer options and fewer choices to make."
Unlike tornadoes or hurricanes, relative to other natural disasters, drought often goes unnoticed, says historian Elke Weesjes, a disaster researcher at the University of Colorado. And dried-up land has especially devastating effects for those already facing the challenges of poverty.
“Drought doesn’t photograph well because the impact is very much hidden,” Weesjes says. “It’s translated into economic losses and whole communities are affected by drought."
"Sometimes it's easier to deal with too much of something — like a flood or a big storm that comes in. It's something we can respond to rapidly because it's an event," she says. "It's only after several years that we realize we are in a drought."
In Tulare County, 29.7 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line — making it the most impoverished county in the state and among the highest poverty rates in the nation. The drought has hit Tulare County's poor particularly hard, especially families like 80-year-old Carmen and Al Almanza. The retired couple were surprised in early April when water simply stopped coming out of their faucet.
They rely on their son, who brings a trash can filled with water to their home three times a week, and grandchildren, who bring them bottled water for drinking.
Local water authorities told the Almanzas their well was dry and they needed to dig about 150 feet deeper — which could cost anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000. The couple, living only on Social Security, say they can’t afford that kind of renovation.
“I just need my well fixed,” Carmen Almanza says. “You can imagine it’s difficult to open the faucet and expect to have plenty of water, and now we don’t.”
The couple’s problem is becoming more common throughout the Central Valley, where 90 percent of residents rely on groundwater. Residents must search elsewhere for water to meet basic needs like laundry, cooking, teeth brushing and showering. Many residents must buy their drinking water from grocery stores up to 15 miles away from their homes or individual bottles of water from convenience stores.
That's partly because even in places where wells haven't run dry, much of the groundwater has been contaminated by farming chemicals and low water levels. The problem of water contamination in the Central Valley has existed for decades, but the situation is exacerbated by the drought because less water means higher concentrations of nitrate and arsenic (among other contaminants).
The longer the drought persists, the higher the contamination, says Susana De Anda, executive director of Community Water Center, a California-based nonprofit organization that helps communities access clean water through funding and policy advocacy.
Small communities have little infrastructure to treat water for safe use, and water funding has been prioritized to bigger, more urban water needs. Even if clean water were available, it would be running through antiquated pipe systems that cause contamination, De Anda says.
The contamination also creates a financial burden on residents who have to buy potable water to replace the groundwater they pay for but can't use.
People in one community in Tulare County spend an average 3.9 percent of their household income on water expenses, according to a pilot study done by CWC. That exceeds the 1.5 percent affordability threshold recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And some households spend up to 10 percent of their income on water alone, De Anda says.
That means some families are spending $100 to $150 a month just on water, says CWC policy analyst Omar Carrillo. He says he knows families who are living on $14,000 a year, paying $100 a month in water bills for contaminated water and then buying bottled water on top of that for drinking. For some, that's more than they spend on groceries.
"There are trade-offs," Carrillo says, referring to sacrifices families make to pay for their most basic needs. "They'll end up without something."
Community Water Center has been working to help families access safe drinking water since 2006, and De Anda says she sees the state's drought emergency as an opportunity to leverage emergency federal funding that previously wasn't available for people who have been without clean water, even years before the onset of the drought.
CWC has made some short-term gains with $4 million in federal grants for emergency water supply in disadvantaged communities. As a result, residents of Tooleville, a small community in Tulare County, will soon receive free bottled water for three years. Other communities are applying for grants to provide free clean water either from vending machines or by delivery. These are short-term solutions, to be sure, but the water provided by emergency funding is a huge relief for families with steep water bills, De Anda says.
Plus, within the next month, Tulare County’s Community Action Agency will begin offering assistance with water bills. It's a service it typically can't afford, usually only offering help with electricity and gas bills. But Brown recently signed off on a drought relief package of roughly $686 million, $28.5 million of which is allocated specifically for emergency drinking water and water supply.
Water is food
But the impact of the drought on the Central Valley's poor isn't limited to water problems.
Tulare County sits in the center of California's Central Valley, which supplies up to half of the nation's fruit, nuts and vegetables, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Prices of produce like avocados, lettuce and grapes have increased dramatically, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index, and are only expected to increase.
The price of avocados, for instance, is expected to increase between 17 and 35 cents due to drought, estimates Arizona State University researcher Timothy Richards. Consumers all across the country have felt the impacts of rising food prices, but those costs weigh heavily on the poor, says FoodLink’s Beals.
Families living in poverty spend roughly 21 percent of their household budget on food alone, more than twice the percentage average Americans spend, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And higher prices for healthy foods like fresh produce exacerbate the long-established link between poverty and obesity as low-income families maximize their calories per dollar. Plus, 11.5 million poor Americans live in a low-income area over a mile away from a grocery store, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Most of the donations FoodLink relies on are food and money that come from the agricultural community, and Beals says even though the drought relief funding allocates $25 million for disaster boxes of food staples like rice, beans and canned vegetables, she mourns the loss of the healthy food donated by farmers in the area. “We pride ourselves on giving fresh produce, but that is no longer true,” she said. “We’re going to be getting less help.”
By Alice Daniel
(11/14/2013) ARVIN — Thousands of students in the south Central Valley who didn’t have access to clean drinking water in their schools will now be able to quench their thirst safely after several organizations and companies that make water filters formed an unusual partnership.
More than 3,500 students in four public schools and five Head Start centers in the small towns of Arvin and Lamont southeast of Bakersfield in Kern County no longer have to worry about unsafe levels of arsenic in their drinking water.
“We really see this project as a model for other schools and communities that are struggling with contaminated water,” said Shen Huang, a technical analyst for the Community Water Center. “It’s a pretty creative solution. A lot of coordination went into it. If you work together you really can make a difference.”
CWC worked with the Committee for a Better Arvin, the Arvin Union School District and the Community Action Partnership of Kern on the project. The California Endowment is a major funder of the effort, and several manufacturers provided filters at no cost.
Arsenic levels in some areas of the south valley are twice as high as the EPA’s legal safety limit. “There are public health effects to chronic exposure of arsenic,” said Huang. It can cause cancer, Type 2 diabetes and reduced mental functioning in children.
Salvador Partida, co-founder of the environmental group Committee for a Better Arvin, has been pushing for filters in the school district for years. “It’s a real breakthrough, a tremendous help for these kids,” he said. “It’s not a permanent fix but at least it’s a start.”
Still, he wants to see a long-term solution for the entire town. “The only thing we can use the water we pay for is for our grass and to bathe.”
Widespread Problem in Valley and Beyond
Contaminated drinking water is not uncommon in the Central Valley. Dozens of small communities grapple with the problem. “It’s not limited to Arvin or Lamont,” said Huang. “Arsenic is a widespread issue, as well as nitrates.”
Arsenic is naturally occurring in the water in Kern County, but it can also come from practices like mining or chemical treatments, said Huang. Other contaminants, such as nitrates, are the result of decades of intense industrial agriculture.
“It’s a story that plays out all over the region,” said John Capitman, executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides and animal waste have seeped into the aquifers and then the groundwater for about 70 years, he said.
Some of these communities actually started out as labor camps for farm workers. “The social costs of food production in this region have really been borne by the laborers and residents,” he said.
A 2012 study by the University of California-Davis estimated that a quarter million people in the Tulare Basin in the Central Valley (one of the country’s leading dairy producers) and the Salinas Valley were at risk of nitrate contamination in their drinking water. High levels of nitrates have been linked to a potentially fatal condition called blue baby syndrome, caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood.
Many California towns operate their own small water districts. The volunteer boards often lack the technical expertise and the political clout to get clean drinking water, said Capitman. It’s also expensive to run treatment plants. According to the UC-Davis study, “Treatment and alternative supplies for small systems are more costly as they lack economies of scale.”
Even With Budget Cuts, School Districts Find Solutions
Clean drinking water in schools is not a given, according to a report by California Food Policy Advocates on Improving Water Consumption in Schools.
The report highlights the fact that in the Central Valley, unsafe tap water poses a “true public health concern” and that even providing filters “may be infeasible or too costly for cash-strapped schools.”
Michelle McLean, superintendent of the Arvin Union School District, said water contamination is a problem that causes a lot of tension and stress for districts that have already suffered major budget cuts. “Public schools, especially rural or high-poverty districts, usually don’t have the financial resources to provide alternative sources of drinking water,” said McLean. Before her district got filters, students brought bottled water from home. There were also water dispensers at each school but they were expensive to refill.
Now the schools not only filter the water in the water fountains, they also each have two hydration stations where students can refill their water bottles. “Parents can be assured that at least at school their kids will have clean water,” said McLean.
McLean said districts should work with public and private entities to apply for grants, get funding and find solutions. It’s also important to do the groundwork. She said her district and the community spent a lot of time researching the right filters for arsenic. “We had a really good work group and we started looking at all our options,” she said.
Getting the right filter is critical. “There’s a lot of sharks preying on our communities,” said Huang. “Some people will say their filters will take out anything. But filters are very specific to the contaminant. There’s not a one size fits all.”
The filters for this project are certified by the California Department of Public Health to remove arsenic effectively. The department has a list of certified devices on its website. DPH also offers grants for interim solutions to contaminated water in communities, said Huang.
Maintenance Is Key to Success
“Preliminary water testing already shows the filters are reducing the arsenic level below the safety limit,” said Huang. “But the success of the project is really in the maintenance and operation.”
Maintenance support and training will be provided to the school staff to ensure that the filters are performing successfully. “We want our projects to be sustainable, so the schools need to know what to do,” said Huang, who will be doing some of the training.
One of the funding partners in this project, Blue Planet Network, will track the process online, including data about water quality.
“The network is essentially a space for people to share their projects, to show how one creates change in the community,” said Huang. “Seeing these children get safe drinking water is very rewarding for us and our community partners.”
By Mark Christian
(11/12/2013) LAMONT, Calif. – Five Head Start Centers, four schools and south Kern County communities of Arvin and Lamont are getting relief from arsenic contaminated water.
Community Action Partnership of Kern, the Arvin Union School District and Community Water Center working with local community groups are securing funding to deliver safe drinking water to the school sites by installing water filters at playground drinking fountains and classrooms.
Water experts say throughout out the Valley more than a hundred communities without safe drinking water are working on long term solutions to address drinking water contamination.
Many small communities water systems will have to wait years for improvements. In the meantime, residence and now schools are increasingly looking for interim measures they can take to reduce exposure to contaminants, primarily arsenic and nitrate.
In south Kern County, where many communities drinking water supplies contain arsenic over legal health standard, residence and local leaders concerned about student exposure have taken action.
Arsenic is a drinking water contaminants that can have serious health effects, such as reduced mental functioning in children; cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidneys, liver and prostrate and Type 2 diabetes
“We are working with our families and local communities to educate them about access to safe drinking water,” said Yolanda Gonzalez of Community Action Partnership.
As a result of this project, about a total of 3700 students and staff will be able to access safe drinking water and drinking water fountains and kitchen cooking areas.
By BakersfieldNow.com Staff
KBAK/KBFX – BaskersfieldNow.com
(11/07/2013) ARVIN, Calif. — A coalition addressed water contamination in some south Kern County schools.
Water filters were installed at cooking areas and drinking fountains on playgrounds and in classrooms at five Head Start centers and four schools in Arvin and Lamont.
Visalia-based Community Water Center said it teamed with Community Action Partnership of Kern, the Arvin Union School District and the Committee for A Better Arvin.
Community Water Center said many rural valley communities have unsafe drinking water, contaminated by arsenic levels over the legal health standard.
“Since last year, we have been working with the schools and centers to assess their specific drinking water needs by developing an inventory of contamination sites and analyzing different filters on the market,” Shen Huang, technical analyst of Community Water Center, said in a news release. Community Water Center is a nonprofit organization that works with communities that lack access to safe drinking water.
“Seeing these children get safe drinking water is very rewarding for us and our community partners,” Huang said.
The filters are part of a pilot program for securing immediate access to safe drinking water while long-term solutions are being pursued, the group said.
KGET-TV – KernGoldenEmpire.com
(11/07/2013) KERN COUNTY, CA – Access to clean water is a major concern in central California, where more than 100 communities in the valley don’t have it.
But, an initiative led by community groups in Kern County is helping schools in Arvin and Lamont keep their drinking water safe from arsenic.
By the end of the year, all K-8 schools and Head Start Centers in Arvin and Lamont will have water filters on the playground and classroom drinking fountains. They’ll also be in kitchens, all in an effort to get rid of arsenic.
Though it will take years to come up with a long-term solution for water contamination, this step is making a big difference
For students and staff in the Arvin Union School District, drinking from the water fountains could be dangerous.
“For some time now, the community of Arvin has had a water issue with the acceptable levels of arsenic and nitrates in the water,” said Superintendent, Dr. Michelle McLean.
Those contaminants can lead to reduced mental funtion in children, various forms of cancer, and Type 2 Diabetes.
“There have been requests made over time for us to filter the water here at the schools, but it’s really cost prohibitive, and the costs we receive from the State Department of Education and taxpayers are really meant to go toward the education,” McLean said.
So the Community Action Partnership of Kern teamed up with the school district, the Community Water Center, and the Committee for a Better Arvin to come up with a temporary solution, filters on all drinking fountains and in kitchens.
“We have to pay double for water here because we pay the water district their bill and then we have to pay for bottled water which we can’t drink the water from the tap.”
Salvador Partida says his concern is for the kids who might not be able to bring bottled water to school every day. Though he hopes for a permanent solution to the water problem, this project is a good place to start.
“It’s a band aid, but nevertheless it’s going to help maybe for the duration until we get something fixed. But, it’s worth it,” Partida said.
This project will be in place for three years at no cost to the schools or Head Starts thanks to funding from various partners.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Schools with arsenic contamination soon to have safe drinking water
Community-driven effort partners with many groups to install water filters in schools
(11/06/2013) KERN COUNTY, CA – Five Head Start Centers and four schools in the south Kern County communities of Arvin and Lamont are getting relief from arsenic contamination in public schools. Community Action Partnership of Kern (CAPK), the Arvin Union School District, and Community Water Center worked with local community group,Committee for A Better Arvin (CBA), and a broad set of funding and in-kind donation partners to deliver safe drinking water to local school sites by installing water filters at playground and classroom drinking fountains sites and kitchen cooking areas. This effort is seen as a pilot model for securing immediate access to safe drinking water while long-term solutions are being pursued.
Throughout the Valley more than a hundred communities without safe water are working on long-term solutions to address drinking water contamination. Unfortunately, many of these small community water systems will have to wait years for improvements. In the meantime, residents and now schools are increasingly looking for interim measures they can take to reduce exposure to common contaminants, primarily arsenic and nitrate.
In south Kern County, where many community drinking water supplies contain arsenic over the legal health standard, residents and local leaders concerned about student exposure have taken action. Arsenic is a drinking water contaminant that can have serious health effects, such as reduced mental functioning in children; cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidneys, liver and prostate; and Type 2 diabetes.
“We are working with our families and local communities to educate them about access to safe drinking water,” says Yolanda Gonzales, CAPK’s Director of Child Education and Development Services, which runs the Head Start programs where filters have already been installed.
“Since last year we have been working with the schools and Centers to assess their specific drinking water needs by developing an inventory of contamination sites and analyzing different filters on the market,” said Shen Huang, Technical Analyst of Community Water Center, a non-profit organization that works with communities that lack access to safe drinking water. “Seeing these children get safe drinking water is very rewarding for us and our community partners.”
As a result of this project, about a total of 3700 students and staff will be able to access safe drinking water at drinking water fountains and kitchen cooking areas. This project will be in place for three years and will be tracked using partner Blue Planet Network’s online platform to ensure its sustainability. This project began with the installation of filters at the Head Start Centers in September. The project was recently expanded when the Arvin District School Board recently unanimously approved the project implementation, and the Arvin Union School District will get filters by the end of December. The project supports the goals of the South Kern Building Healthy Communities strategic initiative, which helped bring a diverse group together to address the water quality issues in the region.
“We are striving to create partnership models for other school districts and communities that need temporary solutions for access to safe drinking water for students, staff, and parents, because we recognize that public schools, especially rural or high-poverty districts, usually don’t have the financial resources to provide alternative sources of drinking water,” says Dr. Michelle McLean, Superintendent of the Arvin Union School District.
The filters are certified by the California Department of Public Health to remove arsenic effectively. The filter equipment, replacement filters, installation, and water quality monitoring will be all covered with the support of project partners Kinetico Incorporated, AdEdge Water Technologies, Multipure Corporation, Helping Hands For Water, Johnson and Sons Plumbing, Western Water, and California Rural Water Association at no cost to the schools or Head Starts. Ongoing operations and maintenance support and training will also be provided to facilities staff, to ensure that the filters are performing successfully.
“While these filters are effective temporary solutions, communities and local residents ultimately want and desire safe drinking water at the tap,” said Sal Partida, President of Committee for a Better Arvin.
This project was made possible through funding from The California Endowment, Blue Planet Network and the Yahoo! Employee Foundation, and Wells Fargo.
Shen Huang, Community Water Center, (559) 733-0219
Salvador S Partida, Committee for a Better Arvin, (661) 854-7000
Dr. Michelle McLean, Arvin Union School District, (661) 854-6500
Yolanda Gonzales, Community Action Partnership of Kern, (661) 336-5236