Folks in the southwest Fresno County town of Lanare avoid drinking arsenic-laced water from their taps. Four vending machines in nearby Riverdale have been their best option for healthy water — until now.
The machines are gone, according to California Rural Legal Assistance, representing Lanare’s 590 residents. The machines were not filtering the water in Riverdale, which also has arsenic contamination.
CRLA said water from the machines was tested at more than three times the safe level. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the threshold is 10 parts per billion.
Instead of the four-mile drive to Riverdale, Lanare residents must drive as far as Fresno, 20 miles away, to buy water for drinking and cooking.
The Bee published my story last month about the environmental risks people must live with every day in Lanare. The town has no schools, health care or sewer service. The tainted water is the most immediate problem.
Veronica Garibay, a CRLA community education outreach coordinator, says the Lanare Community Service District has applied to the California Department of Public Health for $50,000 to fund interim water solutions. Some of the money could help provide a water vending machine in Lanare.
If the town gets the money, the machine could be installed at the Lanare Community Center.
Deep in a state report on dirty drinking water, an important and revealing statistic went unnoticed by the media last week.
Of the 772,883 Californians relying solely on compromised groundwater, about 400,000 are in the San Joaquin Valley.
We’re talking about water systems that have violated standards, leaving people with no option except buying bottled drinking water during those times. About half of the people suffering this problem in California are right here in the Valley.
The report was done for the legislators by the State Water Resources Control Board as part of Assembly Bill 2222, which required the water board to look at statewide problems and assess the financial resources to help fix them.
The report looks at all of California, but the Valley is in a spotlight here.
Naturally occurring arsenic was the biggest offender among the contaminants. But nitrates — attributable to activities by people — was second.
The Valley has a widespread problem with nitrates, which a University of California study last year traced to fertilizers and animal waste in agriculture.
In Kern County alone, there were 55 violations of water standards between 2002 and 2010 — the highest number in the state.
Tulare County followed with 31. Madera County had 22, Fresno County 15 and Stanislaus County 14. Very few other counties in California even had 10 violations.
Here’s another telling point that nobody reported.
“There are 89 community water systems in Los Angeles County that serve approximately 8.4 million people. However, only 11 percent of that population is solely reliant on a contaminated groundwater source.
“In contrast, Tulare County has 41 community water systems that rely on contaminated groundwater source that serve approximately 205,000 people. Sole reliance on groundwater for these communities stands at 99 percent.”
I’m looking at the percentages here, not the raw numbers. Southern California has larger numbers, but it also attracts more money to fix the problem. Dirty water is cleaned up.
As I mentioned earlier, the Valley has more people drinking water from a system with actual violations.
How are the problems being addressed? The report said some water systems were not receiving or even actively seeking money — most of them in the Valley. They are in Kern, Stanislaus, Fresno, Madera, San Joaquin and Tulare counties.
Hazardous waste landfill leaders met with folks in nearby Kettleman City this week about plans to renew a state operating permit. Kettleman activists continued to oppose it.
Since 2008, the activists, led by El Pueblo Parra el Aire y Agua Limpio, have slowed the landfill’s efforts, sparking a government investigation of birth defects. Investigators found no link between the landfill and Kettleman health problems.
The Kettleman City meeting this week was required as part of the process to get the permit renewal.
Such a renewal would usually be simple — it was in 2003 — but Waste Management Inc., owner and operator of the landfill, needs to expand. There’s almost no room left now for hazardous waste.
So the landfill’s future relies on expansion approval of at least four major government agencies, which are moving cautiously.
Waste Management is hoping for the expansion approval sometime this year. The state operating permit expires in June, but the company can continue to operate as long as its renewal application is received before the June expiration.
Meanwhile, activists say they will fight every step of the way. They say there is a connection to continuing cases of childhood cancer and mortality in Kettleman City.
Activists, led by resident Maricela Mares Alatorre, say they suspect there are simply too many environmental risks around Kettleman — including pesticides, diesel exhaust, contaminated drinking water and oilfield operations.
But no government agency tracks all the sources at once. In a story last month, The Fresno Bee featured Kettleman City’s multiple risks.
The state water board would replace the California Department of Public Health, a $3 billion bureaucracy tasked with 150 different functions handling everything from hospital licensing to regulating the movement of radioactive material.
The state public health agency was the biggest roadblock to getting funds, according to town leaders and many others involved in the process.
The Fresno Bee’s 2011 stories detailed several cities that have been trying for years to get funding from the public health department for drinking water cleanup. In such towns as Seville in Tulare County, drinking bottled water is a way of life.
Nitrates from fertilizers, animal waste and septic systems are the most common problems in the water.
“Some towns have been able to get funding, but some have been lost in the bureaucratic stream,” said Perea, who has expressed frustration about the public health department’s efforts.