What Central Valley’s Water Crisis Tells Us About America’s Broken Social Justice

In the heart of California’s water crisis are the families struggling for daily needs. California’s Central Valley, stretching from Sacramento to Bakersfield - is dry and hot. The drought has been devastating to the rural towns in this region.

In the Central Valley, the fertile soil means agriculture is the primary economy. With the depletion of water, farmers have struggled to get water delivered and many struggle to plant enough crops. The region relied on abundant groundwater, but years of pumping, agriculture and drought means the wells are drying out. Some families have reported that water will only last a couple of hours a day. The issue runs deeper than little water, because even the water available might not be safe.

During the past 10 years, water in some Central Valley rural towns have been found to be highly polluted. Just outside of Bakersfield in Lamont, a highly toxic chemical called 1,2,3-trichloropropane, or 1,2,3-TCP has been found in the water. The chemical was used between the 1940s and 1980s with soil fumigants. California’s 2017 regulation means that water companies had to regulate the chemical, and locals are paying the extra filtration system costs through water bill increases. Even with that, some areas are still receiving water with chemical levels higher than the legal amount.  

Families in the region have been outspoken about their struggles, like a mom named Rosa who said she received a letter explaining that the water was toxic. Families, especially those with kids, are afraid of getting sick from the water. Yet getting information about these topics is not easy, the area with the contamination is 80% Latino, and a letter received in English with important information means non-English speakers don’t have access to crucial information. On top of that, with a median income of $13,000, many are now having to buy bottled water not only to drink but to bathe and do basic dish washing.

The drought has made water a challenge in many dry and arid regions around the world, and low-income rural areas are struggling the most. Having access to clean water is a human right, and yet many American families are left behind. The slow response and lack of urgency have catastrophic consequences. This is just a glimpse of how equity is not just an abstract idea - it is about the basic needs for survival. We have a long way to go and the issue surrounding clean water, the basis of all life, tells us a story of a broken social justice system that needs to be repaired.


To read more:

Tapped Out: https://inn.org/inn-collaborations/tapped-out/

California Health Report: https://www.calhealthreport.org/2021/05/05/im-scared-of-getting-sick-from-the-water/

Importance of Climate Change on Water Supply: https://ca.water.usgs.gov/projects/central-valley/climate.html

You might be interested in: California Is Running Out of Water, A Short Overview

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