Water-Sac Bee
Addi Dankemeyer (8 years old), gets water from a water bottle in the classroom at Shiloh Elementary School west of Modesto. Because of nitrate levels, the school has been using bottled water since January 2018. Joan Barnett Lee jlee@modbee.com

CRC in the News: 360,000 Californians have unsafe drinking water. Are you one of them?

360,000 Californians have unsafe drinking water. Are you one of them?

Published by The Sacramento Bee 06/01/2018, Written by Dale Kasler, Phillip Reese, and Ryan Sabalow

At the Shiloh elementary school near Modesto, drinking fountains sit abandoned, covered in clear plastic.  At Mom and Pop's Diner, a fixture in the Merced County town of Dos Palos, regulars ask for bottled water because they know better than to consume what comes out of the tap.  And in rural Alpaugh, a few miles west of Highway 99 in Tulare County, residents such as Sandra Meraz have spent more than four decades worrying about what flows from their faucets.  "You drink the water at your own risk," said Meraz, 77. "And that shouldn't be. We have families here with young children."

In the Valley, 185,000 residents are served by water systems deemed out of compliance by the state water board. The region has some of the highest rates of nitrate contamination in the United States, a problem linked to the widespread application of fertilizer and the runoff from livestock in the nation's most productive farm belt.

Researchers at UC Davis who have studied the problem say unsafe drinking water goes hand-in-hand with another Valley issue: poverty. Farmworkers and other rural residents generally live in isolated, unincorporated communities served by water districts that lack the resources and expertise to address contamination.

UC Davis professor Jonathan London, lead author of a study published in February, said the prevalence of underfunded water providers is partly a legacy of the Valley's historical development, which segregated Latino workers in farm-labor camps or isolated communities, usually cut off from city services.

"There are so many of these disadvantaged unincorporated communities, and the water districts have sort of followed," London said.

The result is tens of thousands of Valley residents, many of them poor, with substandard water coming out of their taps. The UC Davis study also said Valley residents often "pay a triple penalty" to obtain safe water: Not only do they face health risks, their water bills tend to be higher, and they have to buy expensive bottled water on top of that.  READ MORE