The Poorest People In California Are Paying The Most For Drinking Water

girl drinking water fountain

Photo: Shutterstock/D. Hammonds

Alarmingly, pollution in California’s San Joaquin Valley means millions do not have the same cheap access to clean drinking water as most Americans (i.e. their faucets at home) placing a big financial burden on people who also happen to be some of the poorest in the state. The New York Times‘s Patricia Leight Brown gives a rundown of what that looks like for these individuals, including one woman in Seville, where the average annual income is $14,000, who fills five gallon jugs daily in addition to her standard water bill.

Calculated out, households in the San Joaquin Valley spend on average of over $50 a month paying for two sources of water: the dirty tap and either bottled of filtered water supplements, according to a 2011 study by the Pacific Institute. For many that mounts to up to 10 per cent of their household income, notes Brown. On average it’s just below 4 per cent, finds the study. And those are the people that are lucky.

“I remember the tragic stories of farm-worker women in Seville, in the San Joaquin Valley, who were condemned to drinking the water from their polluted wells because they did not have the money to purchase bottled water,” The United Nation’s Catarina de Albuquerque recently said. People in San Francisco, on the other hand pay $25 per month to get clean water from one source, according to the Fresno Bee‘s Mark Grossi

The financial burden has fallen on the people to fix their drinking water issue because the government hasn’t delivered, at least not yet. This September Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Human Right to Water bill, which on paper promised “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.”

It then talks about all the agencies that are responsible for getting that done. The problem? It’s not clear where the money will come from. So far, the funds haven’t appeared. The federal government allocated $1.3 million to one town in the Valley to build a water treatment plant. But it wasn’t enough, notes Brown.

“When the system began operating, the cost of water skyrocketed — the result of lowball estimates by construction engineers, as well as the siphoning of treated water to nearby farms,” she writes. “The plant currently sits unused.” The state has allocated another $4 million for what Brown calls “interim solutions” like sink-filter attachments that can remove harmful nitrates and arsenic. Overall, though, it would take $150 million to clean up the water problems, according to Grossi. 

As the costs keep rising, the problem is getting worse, warned Peter Gleick, the president of the Pacific Institute. The Nitrate contamination in the San Joaquin Valley, one of the many places with undrinkable tap water, is spreading he says. The number of contaminated wells, for example, jumped from nine in 1980 to almost 650 in 2007, according to The State Water Resources Control Board.

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