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
Arvin is home to approximately 20,000 people, the majority of which are low-income Latinos. It is known for its large agricultural sector, which was heavily impacted during the drought. Arvin has not had access to safe drinking water for at least 11 years. All 6 available wells contain arsenic at levels that exceed the federal health standard.
Joaquin Duran (pictured left) has lived in Arvin for 10 of those years years. Prior to living in Arvin, he lived in the Bay area, “I moved to Arvin to be with my wife's family. Upon arrival, I saw the drastic difference between the two areas and surrounding communities. I remember not being able to sit outside my yard because of the polluted airs’ strong smell everywhere.” Joaquin said. "I learned that the water was contaminated with arsenic. I felt that was unacceptable... I right away began to get involved in community work regarding groundwater contamination and engaging the community to join me.” Joaquin is a member of the Committee for Better Arvin, and helped Arvin secure water filters for its citizens.
Water security has been a difficult problem to solve because of lack of attention and response from government agencies. One barrier that Arvin has faced is in mobilizing community members. “Everyone was already conformed to the idea that bad air and water was something that couldn’t be changed, so reversing that (idea) took a lot of effort,” Joaquin said. “Community engagement lacked; I remember talking to a lot of community members, street by street, getting them involved and engaged through meetings and flyers.... I also remember doing Radio Bilingual and TV interviews to help get the word out about the issues facing my community. ” Joaquin has seen huge successes through this work. “I like the unity among the community. This wasn't the case several years ago. I enjoy seeing community members helping one another,” he said. Joaquin is also proud of other water victories in Arvin. He helped to have water filters installed in schools, so that children would have access to healthy drinking water. “I have kids... and I am happy that one of our victories has been having filters in our schools. My kids stopped drinking sugary beverages and lost 13 lbs after drinking clean water.” However, Joaquin still feels that improvements can be made at schools because the water from the drinking fountain comes out hot because of the plumbing pipes heating throughout the day.
“My proudest moment was getting the Superfund money from the state and the tap filter installation program (in schools)…” Joaquin believes that water safety work will continue. He hopes that four new wells are completed, and that the old wells contaminated by pesticides and dairy byproducts are closed.
To help with these goals, CWC has helped Arvin implement a plan to replace its wells with new wells in areas with lower arsenic levels. Arvin secured Prop. 84 funding to with this project, and phased construction of the replacement wells is underway and expected to take 2-3 years to complete.
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By: South Kern Sol
June 23, 2016
Ed. Note: After graduating from the University of California Berkeley with a major in environmental science, Arvin resident Gerardo Tinoco decided to return home to use his education to address the issues impacting residents in his hometown. This profile is part of a series looking at young people in the Central Valley who are making a difference in their communities.
With the exception of a four-year stint at UC Berkeley, Gerardo Tinoco has lived in Arvin continuously since moving here with his family at the age of four. Born in Modesto to farmworker parents, today Tinoco works to ensure residents have access to safe and clean water.
“That’s my main passion, connecting environmental issues to human health,” said Tinoco, 24, who works as a program coordinator with the non-profit Community Water Center.
Tinoco is not shy about expressing his admiration for the Arvin community. “Growing up in Arvin was great; I really liked it. You know everyone in the community,” he said.
He recalls seeing his parents work tirelessly in the fields to support the family, and says that for much of his childhood he assumed he would end up taking classes at Bakersfield College, the local community college, and finding work in the area.
But by his senior year at Arvin High School, teachers began to take notice. Tinoco graduated top of his class in 2010 and, on the urging of his teachers, applied to several universities, eventually gaining acceptance to UC Berkeley.
“College was definitely a big shift. It was culture shock. But it was exciting,” said Tinoco. “A lot of people were worried that I was going to be scared.”
Tinoco is the first in his family to graduate college, but he won’t be the last. His younger sister is currently enrolled in Cal State Bakersfield and his brother, 16, plans to go to college as well. The family is part of the growing number of Latinos nationally who are enrolling in college. A 2014 Pew studyfound that college-going rates among Latinos aged 19-24 tripled between 1993 and 2013.
For Tinoco, the college experience was transformative. “In high school, my main goal was to get a good job and make a lot of money. But in college, I got educated, and I saw the problems that communities like mine faced,” explained Tinoco.
In Arvin and other parts of the Central Valley, those problems range from high rates of poverty to environmental challenges that include toxic water and air quality said to be among the worst in the country.
According to Tinoco, many of these issues fester because too many young people like himself leave the Valley to go to school and don’t return to apply their education to improving conditions.
That isn’t entirely surprising, considering the limited opportunities compared to larger cities to the north and south, as well as the high unemployment rates that plague Central Valley communities like Arvin. In 2016, the city’s unemployment rate stood at over 10 percent, which is double the state average.
When Tinoco returned after graduating in 2014, he initially had a hard time finding work and so took a job in the fields packing grapes. While it wasn’t what he had planned, working in the fields was preferable to staying home waiting for a job to materialize, he said.
Eventually an opening did come his way via the Community Water Center, which works to address many of the water issues that Arvin faces, one of the most pressing of which is the high levels of arsenic in the local ground water.
A naturally recurring contaminant, arsenic is a know carcinogen. The ongoing drought in the state has increased concentration levels. Hundreds of residents across the county suffer from a lack of access to safe drinking water as a result.
“Water is a basic human right but a lot of people don’t have access to it,” said Tinoco, who described his sense of satisfaction in knowing he is helping to remedy the problem. “The fact that I can help people gain access to safe drinking water in my hometown is just amazing.”
Tinoco is now thinking about returning to school to pursue a graduate degree in environmental science. Asked about future plans, he said, “I definitely see myself doing work like this where I help communities … my community.”
First-grader Shiloh Rivera holds up a reusable water bottle donated to every student at his Arvin school as part of an advocacy campaign called Agua4All. KERRY KLEIN/KVPR
The state estimates that over a million Californians lack access to safe drinking water. After 15 years with arsenic contamination, one small Kern County community took the struggle for clean water into its own hands--in a campaign that could serve as a role model for others.
It’s recess at El Camino Real Elementary School in Arvin and the courtyard is packed. Kids play tag and tetherball, and laughter echoes throughout the yard.
So does another, more subtle sound: the trickle of water at drinking fountains and water bottle filling stations. The kids know to get a drink when they need a break from the sun. That may sound totally mundane, but a year ago, 11-year-old Johana Mendoza wouldn’t touch the school water.
“It was really dirty,” she says. “I never drank it because my mom told me not to. And I also didn't really like the taste of it. It didn't taste clean, and it looked really dirty.”
More precisely, it was contaminated—with arsenic. It’s in the drinking water in this rural, agricultural town of 20,000 people.
Arsenic has been a problem here since 2001. Before these kids were even born. But now, 15 years later, a new advocacy campaign has temporarily solved the problem—at least in schools. They’ve installed state of the art water filters, given kids durable water bottles, and installed stations where students can refill those bottles. And overlooking every one of those stations is Wally the Water Droplet, a smiley little cartoon. The students are taught: only drink the water if Wally’s there.
“He looks like a dewdrop and he's blue, and he has a smile on his face,” Mendoza says. “He looks friendly.”
This is all a result of Agua4All, a collaboration between non-profit advocacy groups and concerned residents.
“Agua4all is basically a project to increase access to and consumption of safe drinking water throughout California,” says Sarah Buck, a rural development specialist with the Rural Community Assistance Corporation and the Agua4All program manager. “For the past 2 years we've been doing a pilot project to get to that end through the installation of water bottle filling stations and treatment where necessary in south Kern and the eastern Coachella Valley.”
So far, Buck and her associates have installed over 140 filling stations and 80 filters in schools and public spaces like parks. And Wally the Water Droplet? He plays a very important role.
“Once you know your water's safe, then we really want you to drink a lot of it,” says Buck. “A lot of these kids and families really just are drinking way too many sugar-sweetened beverages and aren't drinking enough water. We really want to make water cool and make it desirable.”
Agua4All is the product of over two years of planning and more than $2 million in grants and donations like water bottles. You might be wondering: why did it come to this? Lawmakers passed policies like the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Human Right to Water Bill to protect communities like Arvin. And yet, it was still up to a group of advocates to raise their own money and install their own filters. But even though these laws are huge steps forward, says Buck, they’re still vastly underfunded, and community efforts like Agua4all may bring change faster than government agencies can.
“[These agencies] say, ‘your water has to be under this amount to be safe, and we're going to fine you if you don't,’” says Buck, “‘but there's not necessarily a mechanism for us to give you the money to do it.’”
The EPA recognizes the problems here in California. Jared Blumenfeld, an EPA administrator in charge of a number of western states, says the agency is putting pressure on California to prioritize smaller communities like Arvin.
“Any of the medium sized and large cities, this isn't an issue because you can pay for the infrastructure to take the arsenic out of the water,” he says. “But if you're in a small community, drilling new wells is hard, and many communities have drilled well upon well and the source water still contains arsenic.”
He says Agua4All has been a huge success, and it could be a model for other communities lacking money for big infrastructure upgrades. But as he said at an Agua4All rally last month, even this shouldn’t have been so hard.
“We're here in 2016 celebrating a water fountain,” he said to an auditorium of Arvin residents. "You'd think we were going to the moon—because this has taken that kind of effort.”
Agua4All has made many schools and public spaces safer. Now, residents just need to wait a little longer for arsenic-free water in their homes. The city is drilling new wells, and so far, arsenic levels are well within the safe zone. If all five wells come up clean and clear, the rest of Arvin could get new drinking water as early as 2018.
On April 5th, community members celebrated the installation of over 60 water stations and point-of-use filters in south Kern County in response to the safe drinking water challenges facing our community and our state. The event highlighted the progress the communities of Arvin and Lamont have made to improve access to safe drinking water in our schools and neighborhoods but also reminded local and state leaders that much more work remains to be done.
Arvin has violated federal drinking water standards for arsenic for over a decade, and according to the California Annual Compliance Report for Public Water Systems, over one million Californians are impacted by unsafe drinking water each year.
Many residents in the San Joaquin Valley rely on inadequate, contaminated water supplies, which are made even more vulnerable due to the historic drought. Sadly, low-income communities and communities of color face the greatest risks. This inequity cannot continue, which is why we are working together toward interim and lasting solutions in our communities.
The Agua4All event raised awareness about the lack of safe drinking water access in schools and communities and brought the community together to advocate for sustainable long-term solutions to ensure safe drinking water for all.
As part of the Agua4All initiative, which is a partnership with the Community Water Center, The California Endowment, Rural Community Assistance Corporation, Pueblo Unido CDC, and many local partners, over 60 water stations and point-of-use filters have been installed in south Kern County. Local schools, parks, libraries, health clinics, and other community spaces in Arvin, Lamont, and Weedpatch have received these water stations. The event was a great opportunity to celebrate the community partners, schools, local and State officials, funders, and non-profits that made Agua4All happen, and to keep the pressure on for water justice locally and statewide.
The community of Arvin, which has had unsafe arsenic contamination for over a decade, is now on track to have safe water by the end of 2019. Six of the community’s seven wells currently exceed arsenic standards, which led to enforcement action from USEPA Region 9 starting in 2008. In September, the Arvin Community Services District (ACSD) agreed to a new Administrative Order with a timeline for the community’s Arsenic Mitigation Project. The new Administrative Order outlines very clear milestones with specific deadlines which ACSD is obligated to comply with. CWC is working with community organizations like the Committee for a Better Arvin to ensure that ACSD remains on track with the new project timeline and that community members are receiving regular updates from ACSD.
As part of the Administrative Order, the ACSD will keep three free water filling stations in operation until a permanent source of safe water is secured for the entire community. If you live in Arvin, help spread the word about these safe water access points!
On Monday, June 15th, the Community Water Center and Rural Community Assistance Corporation unveiled the first round of filtered water fountains in Sierra Vista Elementary School. These fountains are part of the movement for safe drinking water in South Kern County.
Approximately 20,000 residents in the City of Arvin have been impacted by unsafe drinking water for over a decade. Nearly every public well in the city has high levels of arsenic, a drinking water contaminant that can cause cancer, reduced mental functioning in children, and Type 2 Diabetes.
An innovative partnership between the Community Water Center, Rural Community Assistance Corporation, the State Water Resources Control Board, The California Endowment, and Helping Hands for Water is installing water fountains and bottle filling stations with point-of-use treatment systems specifically designed to remove arsenic from the water. In total, more than 70 safe water stations will be installed in local schools, libraries, health clinics, parks, and other community spaces in Arvin.
At the kickoff event, representatives from the school, local nonprofits, and other community partners shared updates about the Arvin Safe Water Program. Local community leaders lead a walking tour of the fountains to demonstrate the arsenic treatment systems. Students and residents tasted the water and celebrated the community’s progress toward achieving safe drinking water sources.
Residents of Arvin, CA, have been impacted by arsenic-contaminated water for over a decade. Each of the community's five wells exceeds drinking water standards set by the federal EPA for arsenic. Drilling new wells will take two or more years and millions of dollars.
We’re working toward a more permanent, community-driven water solution for Arvin (check out recent TV news coverage here!), but in the meantime, we’re helping bring water fountains, water bottle filling stations, and point-of-use (POU) filters to schools and other public community sites so that residents can access clean, safe, and affordable drinking water now. We've been installing bottle filling stations in Arvin schools, and we’ll soon be installing more stations with POU filters in partnership with Rural Community Assistance Corporation, The California Endowment’s Agua4All Initiative, the State Water Board, Blue Planet Network, The Committee for a Better Arvin, and many more local community and site partners. Check out photos from several recent filter installations by clicking below!
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