Hundreds of thousands of Californians chronically lack access to safe drinking water in their homes, schools, workplaces, churches, and public spaces. According to the California State Water Board, public drinking water systems deliver water that violates drinking water standards to over 1 million California residents every year. Ensuring a safe, clean, and affordable drinking water supply is a major challenge, particularly for rural communities in California’s Central Valley.
California’s San Joaquin Valley has the highest rates of drinking water contamination and the greatest number of public water systems with Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) violations in the state.
Over 2,400 homes in the Central Valley now have dry wells, and wells continue running dry each week the drought continues. Communities are being forced to turn on old, contaminated back-up wells, and residents are filling buckets from their neighbors’ water hoses in order to have enough water for basic sanitation.
In addition to the acute health risks associated with the Central Valley’s water contamination, communities face the disproportionate economic burden that stems from a lack of basic urban water infrastructure. Residents are often forced to pay twice for water, having to purchase bottled water to supplement the unsafe tap water delivered to their homes. These drinking water costs alone can amount to as much as 10% of a household’s income.
The majority of residents living in small, rural communities in the Central Valley are low income people of color, many of whom spend their days working on the same fields and orchards that are responsible for the water contamination they face at home. For decades these communities have been continuously and deliberately excluded from full participation in their local water decision-making governance.