One Million CA Residents Exposed to Dirty Drinking Water

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.
  • The Governor’s tax proposal is proving to be a tough sell because taxes are already high in the state and the state is sitting on a budget surplus of more than $21 billion.
  • The state is also trying to consolidate small community water systems into larger ones, but the larger ones are fighting this because they can’t afford to absorb the costs that come with overhauling the small systems’ antiquated infrastructure.

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.  

Up Next

New Study Shows Higher Lead Exposure Risk for Bottle-Fed and Black Infants

New Study Shows Higher Lead Exposure Risk for Bottle-Fed and Black Infants

by Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer A new study released last week found that 80% of homes in the U.S. have lead in their tap water and that babies fed formula mixed with tap water were the most at risk for lead exposure. Additionally, researchers found that Black infants were more likely to be exposed […]

Continue Reading 622 words
Siberia’s Arctic Sea Ice Hasn’t Formed Yet This Year

Siberia’s Arctic Sea Ice Hasn’t Formed Yet This Year

by Ashira Morris, ODP Contributing Writer We’ve reached another dangerous climate milestone: for the first time in recorded history, it’s late October and there is no Arctic in Siberia’s Laptev sea. The seasonal sea ice usually melts in the summer and reforms by this time. These ice-free waters put Arctic sea ice at its lowest […]

Continue Reading 406 words
Trump Administration OKs Draining the Swamp — The Okefenokee Swamp

Trump Administration OKs Draining the Swamp — The Okefenokee Swamp

Companies have been trying to mine near Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge for decades without success, but last August the Army Corps of Engineers determined that now it needs no federal Clean Water Act permit because there are no water bodies that are covered by the law that will be impacted. 

Why This Matters:  The president of Twin Pines claims that the mining operation won’t affect the swamp.

Continue Reading 561 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.