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Funding bill puts millions toward drinking water

Funding bill puts millions toward drinking water

Gov. Gavin Newsom signs SB 200 providing an annual $130 million to safe and affordable drinking water

@TheSunGazette

SANGER – Governor Gavin Newsom visited the Valley for the fifth time in his early governorship, this time to sign a key piece of legislation that will help valley communities gain access to safe drinking water. 

Senate Bill 200, beginning in fiscal year 2020-2021 requires 5% of the annual proceeds of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, up to the sum of $130 million, annually. The funds will be deposited into the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund for the purposes of drinking water. 

The Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund Coalition, Community Water Center and Clean Water Action organization marked Newsom’s signature, ensuring $1.4 billion over 10 years, as monumental.

“Governor Newsom’s signature on SB 200 is a historic moment for the communities across our state who have worked for decades to secure the human right to safe, affordable drinking water,” a statement regarding the signing read.

Residents all over the Valley either know of, or have personally experienced the lack of clean water available in some homes. One such example is the unincorporated community of Tooleville.  

For years if not decades, contaminants like nitrates, arsenic, bacteria and now hexavalent chromium that affects young people and the elderly, afflict their water supply. Pedro Hernandez with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability said in an interview with the Sun-Gazette on the Paper Trail Podcast earlier this year, that it is widely understood that water in Tooleville is not for drinking or any other type of consumption. 

High levels of nitrate come from fertilizers, animal factory waste and leaky septic systems. At concentrations that exceed the state and federal health standards, nitrate can cause death in infants less than 6 months old, stillbirths and cancer in adults. Other common groundwater problems in the San Joaquin Valley include arsenic, DBCP, over-chlorination and contamination by bacteria and disinfectant byproducts, all of which can cause both long-term and short-term illnesses.

Tooleville’s two wells regularly do not meet the normal nitrate levels. Residents have tried drilling wells deeper, and in the surrounding areas, and cannot locate an aquifer with water under the Maximum Contaminant Level for nitrate.

The community gets 50 gallons of water a week for cooking, and emergency bottled water for drinking. And even besides the hottest months, residents find themselves running out.

“It is not enough which also stresses the need for a drinking water solution now,” Hernandez said. “There are folks who have to travel out to the bottle water machines or buy bottle water or other beverages. There is the fact that people have to buy water on top of the other bills they are already paying.”

Solutions that involve their nearby neighbor, Exeter, have been years in the making and have provided no fruit. Although the two communities are closer than ever to a potential solution now that Exeter’s water master plan is complete, no project is shovel ready. 

Newsom’s signature opens an important door for communities such as Tooleville. When the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund is fully implemented the noted organizations believe the annual funding will put some families on a brand new path. 

“When fully implemented, the …fund will mean freedom from fear for Californians turning on the tap for water to drink, bathe in, cook or make baby formula. This sustainable funding will make a life-changing difference for California communities facing high costs and serious health threats from contaminated water,” a statement read.

This story was updated on July 31 at 2:11 p.m.

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