California is considered one of the most affluent agricultural states in the world, but at what cost?
The by-products of that agriculture have left the soil tainted with chemicals and local water supplies undrinkable – the water is almost unusable altogether – even taking a shower in it leaves people’s skin itching.
In East Orosi, a small community of agricultural laborers settled at the base of the Sierra Nevada, people are given a mere twenty-five gallons for free per every two weeks, which is not enough when you can’t drink or cook with the tap water (which the residents are still paying $60 a month for).
Local farm supervisors have to provide water for workers out of their own pockets because their companies don’t offer any.
Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of the California EPA, came away shaken from discussions with people living in several of these kinds of communities because residents said that, to be honest, the living conditions and water supplies in Mexico (where many of them have come from) are better than in these regions of California.
It is terrible that over a million Californians live in conditions that are essentially worse than the developing world.
The New York Times reports:
“Mr. Blumenfeld said the “vast majority” of water systems with unsafe water are in small communities where there are too few customers to cover the cost of water treatment and maintenance. Laying even short distances of pipe can cost millions of dollars, which is sometimes feasible when costs are spread out among many people but not so for individual families, or when towns are especially remote. “I’ve never seen as many small drinking water systems in any other state. California is unique in that way,” Mr. Blumenfeld said.
E. Joaquin Esquivel, the State Water Resources Control Board chairman, said the gaps in potable water access were unacceptable and promised that the state would continue using its consolidation authority to ease disparities. But he added that sustained funding for infrastructure and maintenance projects would be crucial for long-term solutions.
Ms. Corrales, a nurse, stepped in as the East Orosi water board president several months ago. She says no one else wanted the job, and she was voted in at a community meeting almost without realizing it.
Sometimes she is not sure whom she should be fighting: the state, the farm owners, the skeptics in Orosi. She wants clean water.
How can this problem be solved in a way that benefits both the residents and the state?
The reality of the situation is that if farm laboring communities can’t access clean water, then eventually they won’t be able to stay there and work, which will affect agricultural production immensely.
This crisis in California is being compared to Flint, Michigan, and solutions need to be implemented sooner rather than later.
Capradio reports that in 2019 California took reassuring steps to make the water safe and affordable, but the road to get there is still a long way ahead and expensive.
California enacted a law that allocated a $130 million annual safe water drinking fund for ten years.
The problem is that several small communities rely on small water systems that do not meet the safe drinking water standards, like the one in East Orosi, where their water supply is contaminated with dangerous chemicals.
The majority of these people who have unsafe drinking water are low-income and people of color. Water treatments can come at exorbitant rates for smaller water systems, and they do not have enough resources to implement the necessary infrastructure or monitoring systems.
The article says that the $130 million funds intended to fix the water problem is just a drop in the bucket and not enough to cover all the costs.
Until the communities can afford a safe water supply, then water problems will persist.
Both Morgan Shimabaku, a research associate with the Pacific Institute, and Laurel Firestone, who serves on the State Water Resources Control Board, agree that the way forward is to consolidate water systems to make the water safer and affordable to residents.