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Lack of Clean Water in Central Valley, CA, USA


In the Central Valley of California water is scarce and often diverted to agriculture and development rather than low income communities or minorities. Migrant farm workers and new immigrants have an especially difficult time getting fair access to water. Communities such as Seville in Tulare County are subject to nitrate contamination in their water from fertilizers and they cannot afford backup systems when their pipes are corroded.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Lack of Clean Water in Central Valley, CA, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:California
Location of conflict:Central Valley
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Water access rights and entitlements
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

One school budgets $100-$500 a month for bottled water for students because the tap water isn't safe; many residents spend up to 10% of their income on water, and 1/5 residents in Central Valley live below federal poverty line [2]

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Type of populationRural
Affected Population:254,000
Start of the conflict:1950
Relevant government actors:State legislature, Department of Water Resources, the State Water Resources Control Board and Department of Public Health, Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, Tulare County Economic Development Office, U.S. Department of Agriculture Service Center
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Community United in Lanare, Environmental Justice Coalition for water, Association of People United for Water, Committee for a Better Seville, Community Water Center
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Neighbours/citizens/communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights
Other socio-economic impactsPrice of Water
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Proposal and development of alternatives:State tax on fertilizers to fund clean drinking water programs
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Communities still lack access to clean, safe, and affordable water despite the passing of a bill ensuring the human right to water in California
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Central Valley Water Board Adopts Program to Benefit Disadvantaged Communities
[click to view]

Oct 2012 Human Right to Water Bill for State of California
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Social Disparities in Nitrate-Contaminated Drinking Water in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Carolina Balazs, Rachel Morello-Frosch, [...], and Isha Ray, Environmental Health Perspectives
[click to view]

[5]Drinking Water Crisis in the Central Valley
[click to view]

Human Costs of Nitrate-contaminated Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley
[click to view]

[2] The Problem Is Clear: The Water Is Filthy, New York Times
[click to view]

[3] California farm communities suffer tainted drinking water
[click to view]

[4] Governor signs human right to water bill
[click to view]

Push for clean drinking water in the Valley continues, Vida en la Valle
[click to view]

Partnership Brings Clean Drinking Water to Central Valley Schools, Programs
[click to view]

Community Water Center
[click to view]

Help us make farms – and farm communities – sustainable!
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Nitrate Contamination in the San Joaquin Valley
[click to view]

Couple without water after well dries up
[click to view]

Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Many residents speak a language other than English so the language barrier makes it difficult for them to advocate for themselves and navigate the legal system
Meta information
Contributor:Bernadette Grafton, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:138
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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