West San Joaquin Valley water battles are leaping onto the big screen and into the sports world this week — both under the heading of “The fight for water.”
On Thursday, Olympic boxer Jose Ramirez, who is from the west-side community of Avenal, will talk about his first professional fight in the Valley, on Nov. 9 at West Hills College in Lemoore.
He is expected to say he wants it to make a statement about the hardship of west-side farm water shortages, calling it “The fight for water.” His news conference is scheduled at noon Thursday in the Sierra Athletic Club.
On Saturday, an award-winning documentary, “The fight for water: a farm worker struggle,” will screen at 6 p.m. at the Tower Theatre in Fresno.
The film, produced by Juan Carlos Oseguera, features a 2009 water march by growers and farm workers. The Latino Water Coalition is a central player in the march.
Community worker Veronica Garibay and lawyer Phoebe Seaton — known for the Community Equity Initiative at California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. — have launched a new organization to continue helping rural California.
The nonprofit Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability will focus on land-use planning, resources and government organization. Garibay and Seaton say there is a need to directly organize, influence policy and legally protect low-income, rural communities from environmental degradation and inequality.
Said Seaton: “Local decisionmakers have historically and systematically failed to invest in low income communities on the one hand, while over-burdening those same communities with industrial, toxic and hazardous facilities.”
Leadership Counsel will collaborate with CRLA, a non-profit legal advocacy group that has long promoted the interests of migrant laborers and the rural poor.
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.”