When I talk to people about my research in the San Joaquin Valley, one of the things they are surprised to learn is that many small communities there don’t have safe drinking water. It’s the kind of problem people associate with third world countries, not the USA. Nonetheless, pollutants from pesticides, fertilizers, mega-dairy sewage and old pipes as well as naturally occurring arsenic get into the drinking water in some Valley towns. Sometimes what comes out of the tap is brown and smells like sewage.
In our interviews, some women described the notices they get in the mail that tell them their drinking water is contaminated, but is safe to keep drinking. Further down the page, however, the flyer often states that if they drink the water for many years they could be more likely to get cancer. For women who had already been drinking the tap water in these towns for many years, these notices were frightening to say the least. Other women described having their water systems shut down, driving long distances to purchase bottled water, or having skin problems and hair loss.
So, I’ve been pleased to see the drinking water problems in the Valley getting more attention recently. Yesterday California Watch reported on the “Human Right to Water” package of bills now in Congress. Schwarzenegger vetoed many of them in the past, but perhaps they’ll have better luck with Gov. Brown. Earlier this year the UN Special Rappoteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation also visited the Central Valley to raise the visibility of drinking water problems.
- Clean Water Advocates Try Again for Reform by Jamie Hansen, California Watch, May 3, 2011
- Farmers: Do your part on pollution by Bill McEwen, The Fresno Bee, April 18, 2011
- Video: UN Expert Learns About Valley’s Drinking Water Problems by Rebecca Plevin, Harvesting Health, March 3, 2011
- UN Studies Tulare Co. Town’s Tainted Water by Mark Grossi, the Fresno Bee, March 1, 2011
- Lost in the Valley of Excess by John Gibler, Earth Island Journal, Winter 2011
- Not a Drop to Drink, by John Gibler, Terrain Magazine, Winter 2005
- Contaminated drinking water in California’s Central Valley Produced by Jim Downing, Switzer Network News, March 2011
- … and not a drop to drink Los Angeles Times, 2010
- The Human Costs of Nitrate-contaminated Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley Pacific Institute, March 2011
- Water and Health in the Valley: Nitrate Contamination of Drinking Water and the Health of San Joaquin Valley Residents Community Water Center, 2010
- Thirsty for Justice: A People’s Blueprint for California Water Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, June 2005