LOS BANOS — Residents of a Los Banos migrant camp finally have a long-term supply of safe drinking water.
The California Department of Public Health recently completed a nearly $1 million water project at the camp, state officials said Tuesday.
The project was financed with funds from Proposition 84, the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006.
The Rafael L. Silva Migrant Family Housing Center is at 18926 W. Henry Miller Road. It has 48 residential units, one managerial unit and one child care facility, according to the state.
The cost of the project, which began in 2009, was $932,000, said Ron Owens, spokesman for the state's public health department. The project consisted of the installation of a 12-inch pipeline for about one mile to connect the migrant center with the city of Los Banos.
Completing the project was important because the migrant center was relying on one well for its domestic water supply, but it was violating safe drinking water standards, Owens said. The Merced County Division of Environmental Health found that water from the well exceeded allowable levels of arsenic and other toxins, he said.
In 2009, the migrant center began using an emergency connection from a California Department of Fish and Game pipeline to the city of Los Banos, according to the state. However, that was just a temporary solution.
Ron Rowe, director of the county's environmental health division, said the water supply at the migrant camp had become a clear issue that needed action three years earlier.
Notices to consumers were quickly sent out asking them to stop consuming the water, he said.
"That effort immediately reduced the potential health impacts," he said. "In any case where water supply exceeds water quality, notification occurs immediately."
Arsenic occurs in groundwater, and those water suppliers are required to test for the substance. Rowe said local officials closely monitor such water systems and try to be diligent in addressing trends that could lead to water quality issues.
"Arsenic is an issue in the Central Valley, not just in the county of Merced," he said.
Projects such as the one at the migrant camp -- linking it to a clean water source -- are excellent ways of dealing with the problem, Rowe said. Arsenic is a complex substance to deal after it has tainted a well. The process is very expensive, he said.
"Our office worked very closely with the state, the public water system and the elected officials to ensure that this transition and consolidation occurred as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible," he said. "We are very happy to see that the project is complete."
Rennise Ferrario, executive director of the Merced County Housing Authority, said tenants won't see a difference because they already had a temporary clean water connection to the city of Los Banos via a California Department of Fish and Game pipeline.
The newly constructed water line will be permanent. "We don't have to rely on Fish and Game to allow us to connect to their line," she said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.