Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Town hall planned to talk about small-town drinking water

The public is invited to a town hall meeting about drinking water problems in small San Joaquin Valley communities where thousands of people have waited years for solutions.

The free event is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, at  Fresno Convention Center, 2nd Floor, 848 M St. Latino USA on National Public Radio and Radio Bilingue are putting on the town hall.

Maria Hinojosa,  journalist and Latino USA executive producer, will moderate. Spanish translation will be available.

The town hall will feature a discussion of Lanare, a small Fresno County town with a history of water problems. Organizers say the discussion will focus on ways to speed up the process of getting healthy drinking water.

Veronica Garibay, co-director of the Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability, will speak at the event. She said the contamination of well water is expanding.

“We should have been doing something about this yesterday,” she said.

Speakers also will include John Capitman, executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute, California State University, Fresno;  Susana De Anda, co-executive director of the Community Water Center in Visalia; Assemblymember Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, and Isabel Solorio, president of Lanare United in Lanare.

State health can’t fund emergency repair for Lanare

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.

Lanare’s closest option for healthy water was contaminated

Folks in the southwest Fresno County town of Lanare avoid drinking arsenic-laced water from their taps. They thought four vending machines in nearby Riverdale were their best option for healthy water.

Now the machines are gone, according to California Rural Legal Assistance, representing Lanare’s 590 residents. The machines apparently 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.

As part of a series titled Living in a Toxic Land, The Bee published a 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 well 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.

State’s health screening tool changes for Lanare, Riverdale zip code

You can look up your zip code on the final version of the state’s new health screening tool to find out the risk of living wherever you live in California. And you will find it here.

I wrote about this in March for a story about West Fresno, which is ranked the most dangerous place anywhere in the state. The Bee links to the tool have been updated.

I noted at least one change. There are bound to be others.

The change I saw was in the 93656 zip code for Lanare and Riverdale in southwest Fresno County. In the previous version of the tool, the zip was ranked among the top 10% of the riskiest places to live. The new tool shows it is in the top 20%.

I noticed the score for the category on low birth weights had been lowered, meaning there was not as much risk as previously thought.

It may seem like a small change, but these rankings will be used to prioritize the spending of some money raised at cap-and-trade auctions.