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'Lifeline' fee on bills urged to aid cleanup


By: Lewis Griswold
The Fresno Bee
February 7, 2017

blog_photo.jpgThe problem of contaminated drinking water in small communities such as Seville in Tulare County can be solved if the state establishes a safe drinking water fund similar to the Lifeline program for basic phone service, an advocacy group with roots in the Valley said Tuesday.

Like Flint, Mich., where lead contamination made headlines, “a drinking water crisis” in California also exists involving tap water contaminated with nitrates, arsenic and disinfection byproducts, said Laurel Firestone, co-director of the Community Water Center, which began in Visalia and has an office in Sacramento.

The problem of contaminated tap water is especially acute in the Central Valley, but about 300 communities and schools statewide are not meeting drinking water standards, she said.

Drinking the water can harm human health, she said.

“We are calling on state leaders to create a safe and affordable drinking water fund to ensure all communities have access to safe drinking water,” she said. “A reliable funding source is the biggest barrier to helping communities … get a reliable supply of water.”

The issue affects low-income communities disproportionately, and nitrate contamination disproportionately affects Latino communities, Firestone said.

On Tuesday, Community Water Center and other advocacy groups – Clean Water Actionbased in Oakland, Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, and the AQUA coalition – lobbied the Legislature about their proposal.

Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, whose district includes East Porterville where wells ran dry in the drought and where nitrates have been found in drinking water, issued a statement.

“Every Californian has a civil right to safe, clean, reliable drinking water,” he said. “I’m open to any ideas that seek a statewide solution to what is a statewide problem.”

To support their cause, the advocates released a poll showing public support for a safe drinking water fund.

The telephone poll of 1,000 people by landline and cellphone showed “strong majorities are willing to pay to fix drinking water contamination throughout the state with a fee on their water bill,” states a report by FM3, a public opinion polling company in Los Angeles and Oakland.

According to the poll, 57 percent of those surveyed would be willing to pay as much as $4 a month extra on their water bill.

Telephone utilities have Lifeline programs that provide discounted service to those who qualify that is covered via a small charge to phone bills.

“A program like that would be appropriate,” said Jennifer Clary, water programs manager for Clean Water Action. 

The fund could help fix water systems that have either man-made or natural contamination – the arsenic in the water supply for Kettleman City is naturally occurring, for instance.

Rebecca Quintana, who owns a home in Seville in Tulare County, went to Sacramento on Tuesday to lobby the Legislature on behalf of the idea. She said contaminated water has been a problem for 40 years.

“There are people coming down with rashes due to nitrates in the water,” she said.

Quintana’s story was part of a special report by former Bee reporter Mark Grossi. Grossi was a 2016 fellow for the Washington, D.C.-based Alicia Patterson Foundation. He is writing a series of stories that focus on the San Joaquin Valley’s rural areas where people face environmental challenges.

Quintana’s 34-year-old daughter, Regina Lujan, died of breast cancer and although the cause is a mystery, “throughout my pregnancy I did drink the water,” Quintana said Tuesday.

Nitrates in water in agricultural regions are caused by fertilizer applied to cropland, according to a 2012 study by the University of California, Davis.

The advocacy groups did not specifically mention agriculture at a news conference Tuesday but “we know we can’t solve the nitrate problem without agriculture being part of the solution,” said Jenny Rempel, director of education and engagement for Community Water Center, following the news conference.

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Press Release: Drinking Water Issues of Local Communities are Focus of 2-Year Outreach


Drinking Water Issues of Local Communities are Focus of 2-Year Outreach

(11/14/2013) VISALIA, CA – A 2-year grassroots effort to engage residents in small, rural communities regarding drinking water and wastewater issues came to an end in early November with the final meeting of the Kings Basin Disadvantaged Communities Pilot Project Study highlighting the successful outcomes and with the conclusion to continue the effort. (For on-the-ground success stories related to this Study, please contact Maria Herrera, Community Water Center).

The Study was conducted by the Kings Basin Water Authority, a regional water agency comprised of more than 50 public, private and non-governmental agencies. The Water Authority received funding from the California Department of Water Resources to investigate and develop solutions for disadvantaged communities that could be integrated into regional water planning efforts for the Kings Basin region. To better understand these problems, an inventory of these communities and the problems they are facing was developed. “This study has provided us with a much better picture of what constitutes a disadvantaged community in our region and what specific water management issues they are having in their communities.” stated Dave Orth, Kings Basin Water Authority Board Member.

There are more than 100 economically disadvantaged and severely disadvantaged communities within the Kings Basin region, which includes portions of Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties. A disadvantaged Community (DAC) is defined by California Water Code as a community with an annual median household income of less than $48,314. A severely disadvantaged community (SDAC) is defined by California Public Resources Code as a community with an annual median household income of less than $36,235. These economically depressed communities represent special districts, schools, mobile home parks, cities, unincorporated communities, assemblage of residences with and without community water systems, and in some cases, communities that are served by private wells and individual septic systems.

A large number of the Kings Basin’s DACs and SDACs currently face critical drinking water and wastewater challenges, but on their own do not possess the necessary technical or financial resources to overcome them. Water quality contaminants in rural communities originate from a variety of sources. Some are naturally occurring, such as arsenic or uranium; other contaminants are related to land use including point source and nonpoint source discharges from industrial, commercial, agriculture, and human wastes usually from septic systems.

The potential solutions are as varied as the contamination sources, and are difficult to standardize across multiple communities due to variables such as geographic location, local hydrologic conditions and chemistry, water system size, water source, governance structure and capacity, and individual preference.

Drawing upon years of experience working with San Joaquin Valley communities, a project team consisting of Provost and Pritchard Consulting Group, Self-Help Enterprises, and Community Water Center developed individualized outreach plans to schools, small water systems, and residential areas such as mobile home parks and communities in the study area. Door-to-door outreach and dozens of community meetings were conducted throughout the region. “Many residents in these rural communities, do not use or have access to electronic methods of communications. Personal outreach was the most effective way to engage them in the process,” stated Sue Ruiz, Community Development Specialist with Self-Help Enterprises.

The Study resulted in identifying five potential pilot projects throughout the Kings Basin that provided practical solutions for common problems with DAC drinking and wastewater systems. The projects included economies of scales analysis, community survey, improvements to a wastewater system, water supply improvements, and Kings Basin Water Authority membership application support.

“The study allowed those involved to clarify water-related issues impacting their communities, explore potential regional solutions, and consider various types of collaboration,” stated Maria Herrera, Director of Community Advocacy with Community Water Center. The outcomes and recommendations from the Study will help other integrated regional planning efforts throughout the State to strengthen outreach to, and support of, DACs in their areas with critical water supply and water quality needs.

Community participants ended the last meeting of the Study with a discussion on how to maintain the momentum of finding sustainable solutions to some of the most pressing drinking water issues in the region. The residents that participated concluded that the relationships and networks established during the Study laid a solid foundation for advancing the work funded by the Study. The participants also expressed a strong interest and considered ways to increase DAC participation in the integrated regional planning efforts of the Kings Basin Water Authority.

To view the final report and executive summary of the Kings Basin Disadvantaged Communities Pilot Project Study go to


For More Information, Please Contact: Cristel Tufenkjian, Kings Basin Water Authority,

(559) 237‐5567, ext. 118

Maria Herrera, Community Water Center, (559) 859‐3326

Sue Ruiz, Self‐Help Enterprises, (559) 802‐1687

Tulare County water districts take first steps toward fixing problems


By Valerie Gibbons

Visalia Times Delta –

PDF of original article

(09/03/2013) A recent change in state rules has allowed some of the country’s poorest water districts to get emergency help while officials work to unravel years of red tape.

Dozens of small water systems throughout the county are plagued with groundwater that exceeds federal standards for nitrates, arsenic or bacteria. Many of the districts also rely on aging infrastructure that regularly sends mud or sand straight to homeowners’ taps – or doesn’t manage to deliver any water at all.

And while new emergency measures may seem like a band-aid – proposed bottled water vending machines here, new wells drilled there – officials say they’re a valued first step toward getting drinkable water to parched communities.

Paul Boyer, a community development director for Self-Help Enterprises, one of the nonprofit organizations trying to organize relief for many of the country’s beleaguered systems is optimistic the change signals the start of a new era.

“We’re making progress but we’re used to a process that takes years,” he said. “If you’re living in a community with unsafe water – and you’re paying for water that’s unsafe to drink – a few years is a very long time.”

In 2008 lawmakers passed a bill sponsored by State Sen. Don Perata (D-Oakland) that would direct $829 million in bonds to water projects throughout the state. Tucked into that bill that was $2 million that would go to Tulare, Fresno, Kern and other San Joaquin Valley counties to develop an integrated water quality and wastewater treatment program for its disadvantaged communities.

Five years later Tulare County, the Community Water Center, Self-Help Enterprises and various state agencies are almost finished with the Herculean task of identifying the challenges faced by each district. They’re also trying to develop a blueprint for a series of fixes. Planning is already in the pipeline for 16 of the county’s hardest-hit systems.

It quickly became apparent those fixes could take years – so this winter emergency funding from the California Department of Public Health was also approved for districts that are simple unable to provide safe water to their constituents. The results were almost immediate. Just a month after the emergency funding kicked in, the 80 residents of West Goshen were suddenly without water for several days after a 350-foot-section of pipe collapsed. Emergency funding from the state allowed the district to hook up to Visalia’s water company, Cal Water – at a price tag of $240,000

The community of Seville will also receive emergency help. Seville made national headlines two years ago after United Nations investigators found a dilapidated, contaminated water system and blasted the state for letting $445 million in unspent funds for drinking water sit idle.

Today, Seville is looking for a site for a test well and the state is funding the plans for a long-term solution.

“There are some planning projects that are spawning from this study,” said Ben Guiliani, executive officer of Tulare County’s Local Agency Formation Commission, the agency responsible for overseeing the county’s special districts. “It’s possible some district formations or reorganizations could come out of this process.”

In the meantime, officials are setting up a water vending machine in Seville that can handle 5-gallon jugs and searching for a test well site. The vending machine will cost about $12,000 – but there will be other expenses, said Maria Herrera, community advocacy director for Visalia’s Communit Water Center.

“We need something that will provide water for 36 months,” she said. “That’s how long it’s going to take for a solution.”

Other districts are mulling in-home filtration devices or bottled water to bridge the gap.

Permanent fixes won’t be as easy to come by. Many of the water systems simply aren’t large enough to generate money for repairs or a trained support staff. Herrera said the vast majority of the systems are managed by volunteers.

“The study is creating a space for people to talk about what’s not working.” she said. “We’re trying to find a way that volunteers don’t need to the management of the systems.”

In the meantime, critical well tests are being completed, board meetings are being held – in some cases after months of cancellations – and officials are trying to navigate the bureaucracy at the state level to bring the funding to Tulare County. In some areas with chronic water problems, like Allensworth and Alpaugh, nonprofits have stepped in with leadership training, so board members could learn to collaborate.

“That’s probably the biggest area of improvement,” said Denise Atkins, Tulare County’s administrative analyst for water resources. “In some of those communities, the oldest person is the one who takes care of the water system – even if they don’t have any water experience and the board is comprised of the few people willing to do the job. Now they can learn from one another.”

While the districts are getting more organized, attention from lawmakers and the media has helped to speed the turnaround for funding. There are five bills dealing with safe drinking water and disadvantaged communities pending the Assembly this session, three of which are sponsored by Henry Perea (D-Fresno).

“It’s a very slow process and a lot of people are tired of waiting,” Atkins said. “They just want to turn on the tap and have clean water come out.”

PDF of original article

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