Without developing more institutional capacity and economies of scale, small, rural, disadvantaged communities that lack technical, managerial, and financial capacity cannot ensure they have long-term access to safe, reliable, and affordable drinking water. However, in order to create solutions that allow communities to achieve these capabilities, considerable investment is needed in planning and technical assistance to help communities evaluate different alternatives and ultimately develop shovel-ready projects. Historically, funding has not been available to facilitate community-driven planning efforts to develop projects and long-term solutions, and still today, disadvantaged communities continue to be generally left out of any existing water and infrastructure planning processes. Prior to CWC’s involvement, there was no plan for sustainable drinking water systems in the San Joaquin Valley.
Planning agencies and water districts in the region are often not representative of or responsive to the needs of residents in the many small, low-income, unincorporated farmworker communities. In fact, nearly half of the water related districts in the southern San Joaquin Valley require land ownership in order to participate in decision-making. It is therefore no surprise that the boards of these local water districts are not representative of the local community. With Latinos, women, and low-income residents drastically underrepresented, local and regional water planning processes, such as the region’s Integrated Regional Water Management Planning groups, have been dominated by powerful agricultural and larger urban water interests. As a result, drinking water needs of small, disadvantaged communities are not prioritized, and solutions are not developed or funded.
Because these communities are outside of incorporated cities and often begin as labor camps or marginalized communities without adequate infrastructure, the responsibility to supply safe drinking water is generally left to very small local water providers. These providers are often run by volunteer boards with little to no training and support, leaving them without the technical, financial, and managerial capacity to run a public water system. Local drinking water systems often fail to contract with a certified operator or adequately communicate vital information to their customers. The result is water rate structures that are often unaffordable and inequitable. The community’s ability to change that reality has been limited without staff or capacity to apply for grant funding to develop more sustainable drinking water systems.
The State of California is comprised of over 2,000 individual water suppliers. In the Central Valley, water is primarily managed by small, local government agencies called “special districts.” The most common types of special districts governing domestic water in the Central Valley are: community service districts, public utility districts, irrigation districts, and water districts. In these special districts, the governing Board of Directors is generally elected by district voters or landowners. Latinos and women are dramatically underrepresented on these decision-making boards and disparities in representation are the greatest in the districts that hold the most water rights in the region.