Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Another study links dirty drinking water, small Valley towns

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.”

Lawmakers want to fix bureaucratic funding maze for clean water

Small, impoverished towns are sometimes left for years with tainted drinking water while they wade through a cryptic state process for public funding to fix the problem.

Two frustrated lawmakers this week will start a streamlining effort that probably will result in several new bills next year.  The lawmakers are Assemlymembers Henry T. Perea, D- Fresno, and Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville.

“We’re getting pretty fed up,” said Perea, who has worked for funding in such Tulare County towns as Seville, Monson, Cutler and Orosi. “We might want to consolidate this process under different agencies.”

At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Sacramento, Alejo and Perea will convene an oversight hearing of the Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials Committee to take testimony from more than a dozen people. If you want to follow it live, go here.

Thomas Harter, a University of California at Davis researcher, will briefly discuss his landmark research released this year on nitrates, the most widely found contaminant. It comes from fertilizer, animal waste, septic systems, sewage treatment plants and decaying vegetation.

The contaminant threatens the drinking water for more than a quarter of a million people in the Valley, according to Harter’s research.

Yet in places like Seville, which was featured last year in a Fresno Bee series of stories on drinking water problems in rural towns, it has taken years just to secure funding to study a fix.

This week, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors was expected to approve a $690,000 grant to study the best ways to fix Seville’s problem. The study money has been years in the making and there have been bureaucratic snags along the way, as The Bee reported last year.

Even with the study money in hand, it probably will take more than a year to get started on a fix for the town’s crumbling water system.