They Grow the Nation’s Food, but They Can’t Drink the Water
Water is a currency in California, and the low-income farmworkers who pick the Central Valley’s crops know it better than anyone. They labor in the region’s endless orchards, made possible by sophisticated irrigation systems, but at home their faucets spew toxic water tainted by arsenic and fertilizer chemicals.
“Clean water flows toward power and money,” said Susana De Anda, a longtime water-rights organizer in the region. She is the daughter of lechugueros who worked in lettuce fields and helped make California one of the agricultural capitals of the world. “Homes, schools and clinics are supposed to be the safest places to go. But not in our world.”
As she spoke, Ms. De Anda drove through several towns where tainted water is a fact of life, here in the state’s agricultural center. In the foreground, along State Route 201, were miles of lush orange fields and dairy farms. Spotted out the passenger window of her silver Toyota was Stone Corral Elementary in the town of Seville, where century-old pipes contaminate the tap water with soil and bacteria. The school depends on grant money to pay for bottled water for students.
Today, more than 300 public water systems in California serve unsafe drinking water, according to public compliance data compiled by the California State Water Resources Control Board. It is a slow-motion public health crisis that leaves more than one million Californians exposed to unsafe water each year, according to public health officials.
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