West Sacramento, Calif. – After months of careful planning and fundraising, the Agua4All team last week unveiled the first water fountain and bottle filling stations (taps) to serve Eastern Coachella Valley and South Kern County residents. The taps were installed as part of the Agua4All pilot to provide safe drinking water to Eastern Coachella Valley and South Kern County residents.
On January 28, at the San Jose Community Center in Thermal, about 50 residents attended an event to celebrate. To open the event, Sergio Carranza, Executive Director of Pueblo Unido CDC, described how important it is to provide Eastern Coachella Valley residents access to free, safe drinking water.
“Because of the health risks from contaminated water,” he said, “many low-income families in our community spend more than 10 percent of their earnings buying bottled water.”
In Lamont Park, Kern County, on January 29, local leaders echoed Carranza’s concerns.
“When I was a student here in Kern County, in my chemistry class, we used to test how bad the water was,” said Jose Gorrula, Jr., a county supervisor in Kern, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Lamont Park in Lamont. “We need long-term solutions and new and innovative ideas, but we also need interim solutions and that’s exactly what we’re doing here today.”
South Kern County and Eastern Coachella Valley are historically agricultural areas. The two regions are home to more than 150,000 low-income residents, many of whom are Latino farmworkers. In the Eastern Coachella Valley alone, these farmworkers are the workforce backbone for a multi-million dollar agribusiness economy, yet their living conditions rival that of developing countries. Poor water quality in these two regions is a result of both naturally-occurring toxins and agricultural run-off.
Eastern Coachella Valley also has the largest mobile home park population in California. Few of the 300 parks in the Valley have access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation. South Kern, as well, faces daunting challenges: with a population of 65,000, it suffers from a high poverty rate, substandard education, unhealthy air and water and limited infrastructure and public services.
Moreover, approximately 25 percent of California’s 9,846 schools do not meet the state and federal mandate to provide free, fresh drinking water to school children at mealtimes. We estimate that more than 500 California schools do not provide safe drinking water at all to their students because of recurring safe drinking water compliance violations.
To address this concern, The California Endowment partnered with nonprofit organizations Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), Community Water Center and Pueblo Unido CDC in Agua4All to address this problem in an immediate, practical and sustainable way. Agua4All’s larger goal is to install 120 water dispensers, and fund treatment for contaminants where needed, in schools and community spaces in Eastern Coachella Valley and South Kern County.
RCAC and partners have also launched a crowdsourcing campaign to exceed the goal of installing 120 water dispensers in Kern and Coachella and expanding the program during the next year. The campaign can be found at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/agua4all-coachella-kern-and-beyond.
RCAC is a nonprofit organization that provides training, technical and financial resources and advocacy so rural communities can achieve their goals and visions. Headquartered in West Sacramento, California, RCAC serves rural communities in the western United States and the Pacific islands. RCAC has strong core services and expertise in housing, environmental infrastructure (water, wastewater and solid waste), leadership training, economic development and financing. To find out more about RCAC, visit www.rcac.org.