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Around 100,000 San Joaquin Valley Residents Live Without Clean Water; Study Suggests Access Is Close

Community Water Center / Courtesy

Water in communities across the San Joaquin Valley is contaminated with things like arsenic and nitrates.

Community Water Center / Courtesy

There are almost 100,000 San Joaquin Valley residents living without access to clean drinking water.

This is according to a new UC Davis study, which suggests that permanent solutions aren’t that far away.

"The costs of doing nothing, in terms of impacts on public health and economic vitality, are far higher than the investment needed to provide safe drinking water for all communities in the region," said Jonathon London, lead author on the study conducted by the Center for Regional Change at the university.

These low-income communities, without city-government representation, live in eight San Joaquin Valley counties. But 66 percent of these people live within one mile of a system that could supply them clean water.  

“There’s a large number of people who could easily be hooked up to clean water at a fairly low cost to the state — that was pretty tremendous for all of us to find out,” said co-author Camille Pannu.

A majority of those without safe drinking water in these small rural places are people of color — Hispanics make up 57 percent of all the people that get water from out-of-compliance water systems in the eight counties represented. About 36 percent of those receiving water from unsafe systems are caucasian.

The authors hope the research alerts state decision-makers to take action by funding ways to connect communities to existing infrastructure and incentivizes water agencies to help. For many of these communities, this would mean a pipeline extension or annexation.

“It’s really difficult to ask that population to bear the burden of fixing what is really a state created and statewide problem,” Pannu said. “Because they’re small and remote they also don’t have a lot of political power when it comes to trying to sway the county for example.”

Around 100 residents are bringing samples of dirty water from their towns to the state Capitol on Wednesday to show lawmakers at a hearing. They want the state to establish a permanent fund for addressing water contamination issues.

Last year, a group of legislators introduced Senate Bill 623, which would set up a fund for safe and affordable drinking water. The bill is still active in the Assembly, but water justice leaders are approaching the topic in a new way this year: They want permanent funds allocated out of the state budget for connecting communities with water contamination issues to clean water sources.  

“Within the next decade and with adequate funding, we could solve a problem that has plagued low-income, rural communities for over 50 years,” Pannu said.

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