Advocates lobby in Merced for clean drinking water for rural residents
Dos Palos student Ace Mejia Sanchez doesn't know where the drinking fountains are located at her school.
Why would she? Nobody uses them.
The 17-year-old said she's been taught all her life not to drink from the tap, and instead sip bottled water.
"I thought it was normal that you would not drink from the tap," she said on Friday. "We were taught you shouldn't drink from the tap. I didn't realize this (water) is a human right."
She lives in one of the 17 communities in the 21st state Assembly district where wells have recently tested positive for harmful toxins. About 80,000 people in Merced and Stanislaus counties can't drink water from their tap without risking their health, according to clean water advocates.
They draw those numbers from records provided by the State Water Resources Control Board.
Advocates gathered in Merced, and similar demonstrations were held around the state, according to advocates, to get elected officials to support Senate Bill 623, which aims to provide a stable source of funding to implement California's Human Rights to Water, Assembly Bill 685 from 2012.
Nitrate, hexavalent chromium, arsenic, nitrate and other toxins have been found in public wells in recent years, the board's records show. Most of them occur in rural communities, like in Dos Palos, Winton, Ceres and Patterson, to name a few.
Some of the toxins occur naturally and need to be purged from the water while others come from pesticides or other origins.
Livingston resident Floripez Dzib, 39, said she worries about her four children drinking tap water, so spends about $100 a month on bottled water. Livingston has struggled to meet the changing water standards in the state in recent years.
Buying bottled water is a burden on Dzib, who said she runs a low-income household. She also pays the $106 monthly water bill to the city. "I don't always have money for bottled water," she said.
The toxins are often linked to organ damage and a slew of different cancers, according to experts.
"We’re looking at (contaminants) that are going to affect future generations, can affect pregnancies," Dr. Salvador Sandoval said. "It's going to affect children in particular."
Gov. Jerry Brown's plan would put the State Water Resources Control Board in charge of collecting water tax fees from residents and businesses that use public water systems, as well as large commercial and industrial users.
In addition, the state Department of Food and Agriculture would collect fees from fertilizer producers and dairy handlers. Fertilizers and manure runoff contribute to groundwater contamination, exposing residents to harmful nitrates. Low-income residents and agricultural operations that meet certain requirements would be exempt from the fees.
The Merced demonstration was aimed at Assemblymember Adam Gray, D-Merced, who provided a statement that he agrees "clean and safe drinking water is a basic human right."
“That is why I am fighting the state Water Board’s plan to redirect billions of gallons of the Valley’s drinking water to the Bay Area and have been for several years," he said. "The Water Board itself says their plan will create a ‘permanent regulatory drought,’ and drinking water experts in our region predict a near total collapse of our primary drinking water supplies if the plan goes through."
The board does not comment on pending legislation, according to its press office.
Gray went on to say the Water Board has opposed legislation he introduced to "hold them accountable for the harm their plan will do to our disadvantaged communities."
"Now, the Water Board thinks it can put a gun to our head and demand a $100 million water tax which they plan to put right in their own pocket," he said. "America has a long-standing policy not to pay terrorist ransoms. I have the same policy.”