In California and as a nation we struggle with inequality. Inequality in health care, income, education, and housing all have negative consequences for our state and nation. We can’t thrive if we leave people behind. We can’t compete on a global level if other countries are outpacing us in equality. While this has become an issue of discussion during this presidential primary season, there’s one issue of inequality that very few even know exists and that is access to safe, clean drinking water.
What’s playing out in Flint, Michigan, has been happening in California for years, it’s just not widely discussed or even known.
The reality is that we have approximately 1 million Californians who when they turn on their taps water doesn’t come out or if water does come out, it’s toxic. That’s a serious problem. Water is necessary to sustain life. What makes it more serious is that it isn’t the wealthy that are struggling with this issue, it’s our most vulnerable – the poor and marginalized – that are the victims of this lack of action.
The California Endowment’s statewide #Agua4All campaign recently convened a Town Hall on Water Inequality in Sacramento at the California Museum to lift up the little known issue and to provide attendees with a wealth of information about the impact this has on Californians struggling to survive in pockets across the state, including the Central Valley and the Eastern Coachella Valley.
The panel discussion, moderated by Joe Barr of Capitol Public Radio, included a number of Californians struggling with lack of access to safe, clean drinking water as well as Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, Laurel Firestone, co-founder and co-executive director of the Community Water Center, Noe Paramo, legislative advocate for California Rural Legal Assistance and Craig Martinez, Program Manager at The California Endowment.
It was noted by the panelists that California passed AB 685 in 2012 that declares that every Californian has “the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water for human consumption, cooking and sanitary purposes,” but it lacks any mechanism of enforcement or funding. And for communities in the Central Valley like East Porterville, Poplar and numerous others scattered throughout California the reality is either no water or toxic water.
TCE’s Craig Martinez noted that “We’ve had a Flint for a very long time in some of our communities in California.” According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, 40 counties in California have areas where clean drinking water is not available to residents.
Poplar Resident and Farm Worker Sandra Garcia has had family members and friends get sick and die unexpectedly and finds herself wondering, “I don’t know if we’re asking too much – but sometimes friends and family members die and we don’t know why.” She lives in a constant state of concern because her community’s children are “getting sick from drinking the water provided in their school.” Her community has one working well because the other one was closed because it’s “so polluted.” Still, the one working well is also contaminated, just not at the level of the well that was closed.
East Porterville Resident Erasto Terán, who also is a water education and outreach specialist for the Community Water Center, asked the audience, “How is it possible we live like this in 2016?”
One of his neighbors, Farm Worker Tomás Garcia has been living without water for 21 months. “When I get home from work in the late afternoon, I must spend many hours in search of clean water from friends who are connected to safe water sources,” said Garcia. And when those friends are not home, he must drive many miles just to get to a store to purchase water he can ill afford. Some farm workers spend up to 10 percent of their earnings on purchasing bottled water for their families. And due to the drought, farm workers earnings are way down.
It is critical that Californians wake up to the reality we’re not taking care of our most vulnerable residents who harvest our crops, clean our houses and office buildings and work all kinds of menial jobs for little pay. The #Agua4All campaign aims to create a sense of urgency around this issue to catalyze action that heretofore has eluded these communities that are suffering.
Miguel Bibanco, a youth reporter for The kNOw Youth Media who lives without access to safe drinking water, summed it up best, “Nothing will happen until we put people’s needs before corporations,” pointing out the reality that big business gets priority when it comes to water access.
Miguel, I couldn’t have said it better.
Join us by raising your voice for water equality and using the hash tag #Agua4All! And follow us on twitter at @calendow!
Click here to read a Huffington Post commentary on California’s water inequality by The California Endowment’s Senior Vice President Daniel Zingale
Click here to read the press release WATER CRISIS: ONE MILLION CALIFORNIANS DON’T HAVE ACCESS TO CLEAN DRINKING WATER
Click here to learn what The California Endowment and its partners are doing to bring safe, clean drinking water to communities in California.
Click here to watch a brief video about our progress so far
Click here to read and listen to one family’s story without access to water for five years.