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Carlos Velasquez drinks well water that contains unsafe levels of uranium (2015). Photo: John Locher, AP
The NY Times published a blistering exposé yesterday, in which it reported that “more than 300 public water systems in California serve unsafe drinking water, according to public compliance data compiled by the California State Water Resources Control Board” with “more than one million Californians exposed to unsafe water each year, according to public health officials.” The problem is most acute California’s agricultural center — in small towns and unincorporated communities in the Central and Salinas Valleys, where the orchards are well irrigated, but the water falling from faucets in homes and schools is tainted by arsenic and fertilizer chemicals.
Stone Corral Elementary in the town of Seville is typical — pipes that are a hundred years old have so contaminated the tap water with soil and bacteria that the school relies on grants to pay for bottled water for students.
The State has $168 million to spend to upgrade these water systems but the Governor has also proposed a tax of about $140 million on urban water districts and the agriculture industry to correct the problem.
In fact, the problem could be much worse than is known — the state does not regulate private wells and does not monitor systems with fewer than 15 connections and many of these private wells and small systems are also contaminated. Low-income farm workers and their families are the hardest hit.
The Sanchez family told The Times they must spend at least $60 a month for tap water they can’t use for cooking or drinking, but the family showers using the water from the pipes, which they say makes their skin itch.
The family receives five free five-gallon jugs of water every two weeks, funded by a grant from the State Water Resources Control Board, but that is not enough and they must buy additional water.
Why This Matters: Clean water is a basic human right. The problem in California is hauntingly familiar — we have written similar stories about Flint’s water crisis, and also about the water problems in Kentucky coal country and in Midwestern farm communities and in impoverished rural Alabama and in communities near large hog and poultry farms in Delaware and North Carolina and in communities spread across the country that are near military and industrial facilities. The clean water problem in the United States today is of epidemic proportions. It is high time to repair our aging water infrastructure.
As California’s drought conditions are worsening, Nestle is pumping millions of gallons of water from the San Bernardino forest. State water officials have drafted a cease-and-desist order to force the company to stop overpumping from Strawberry Creek, which provides drinking water for about 750,000 people.
The ice-out date for Maine’s Lake Auburn is now three weeks earlier than it was two centuries ago, the Portland Press Herald reports, and other lakes across New England show similar trends. Climate change is not good for ice, and that includes Maine’s lakes that freeze over every winter.
Why This Matters: A disrupted winter with lakes that “defrost” earlier has multiple knock-on effects for freshwater: in addition to harming fish in lakes, the resulting large cyanobacteria algae blooms that form can be harmful to human health.
by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer Drought conditions cover 85% of Mexico as lakes and reservoirs dry up across the country. Mexico City is experiencing its worst drought in 30 years, and the reservoirs and aquifers are so depleted that some residents don’t have tap water. The capital city relies on water pumped in from […]
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