Folks in the southwest Fresno County town of Lanare are riding out the heat wave with a 1970s water well that pumps out sandy drinking water and not much of it.
The town of 600 is caught in a familiar state bureaucratic maze, preventing it from getting public money to fix a newer well that broke down.
Help is not on the way despite the California Department of Public Health announcement this week of a plan to speed up funding for drinking water fixes.
Many other small towns in the San Joaquin Valley have hit a similar bureaucratic wall. And Lanare has had its own problems with public funding before.
Lanare is where a $1.3 million federal grant was used several years ago to build a water filtering plant. The town could not afford to run it, so the system was shut down within months of starting. No one assessed the town’s ability to pay for operating the system.
The town is slowly saving up money to pay off a debt that started at about $100,000. But now $10,000 placed in a reserve account to help pay off the debt must be used to repair the newer well.
The health department cannot issue emergency funding to cover the broken well, since the town has the old well.
The department earlier this week had announced the plan to speed up the use of about $455 million in federal funding, saying it would spend about $84 million as soon as possible.
The plan was ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has heard from many small San Joaquin Valley communities that have waited years for the funding.
Back in Lanare, townfolk will spend the money they have been saving since 2010 for the well repair instead of using it to make payments on the debt.
The evidence keeps mounting that people living in impoverished, Latino towns around the San Joaquin Valley are in danger if they drink water out of their taps.
Researchers this year linked dirty drinking water with many towns, such as Seville, Orosi and Tooleville in Tulare County. The culprit is widespread nitrates, which come from fertilizers, septic systems, animal waste and rotting vegetation.
This month, a new study reveals people living in similar communities also are at a high risk of drinking arsenic in their water.
Arsenic is routinely found in the water of such towns as Lanare in Fresno County, Kettleman City in Kings County and Alpaugh in Tulare County. It is linked to skin, lung, bladder and kidney cancer. More recently, it has been connected to diabetes.
The lead researcher in the latest study is Carolina Balazs of the University of California at Berkeley.
She said, “We found that across the Valley, lower income communities had higher arsenic levels than their wealthier counterparts. These same systems may be the least equipped to comply with drinking water standards in the future, leaving residents at continual risk of exposure.”
California’s approach to cleaning up the problem has fallen far short for many years, say those living in the communities. A plan to build a water treatment plant in Tulare County has been caught in funding snafus with the California Department of Public Health for more than a year.
Balazs says California needs a new, well-funded approach over the long-term.
“In the meantime,” she said, “interim solutions need to be put in place so that residents of small communities are protected from dangerous contaminants like arsenic.”