IMPACT

Right Here In The U.S., Over 1 Million Rural Residents Don't Have Clean Water. Here's Who's Helping

EAST PORTERVILLE, CA - FEBRUARY 11:  Evangeline Chavez receives drinking water from Donna Johnson who distributes drinking wa
EAST PORTERVILLE, CA - FEBRUARY 11: Evangeline Chavez receives drinking water from Donna Johnson who distributes drinking water to neighbors as water wells supplying hundreds of residents remain dry in the fourth year of worsening drought on February 11, 2015 in East Porterville, California. Many local residents fill water tanks with free non-potable water for flushing toilets, bathing and laundering. Bottled water is used for drinking, cooking and washing dishes. Most of the wells of about 926 dry homes in Tulare County stopped flowing last summer when some 17 California communities ran out of water. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

More than 1 million Californians don’t have access to clean drinking water and it has nothing to do with the historic drought that’s been ravaging the state.

California’s severe drought, which entered its fourth year in October, has left communities distraught over cracked lakes and unusable houseboats. But in rural areas, more than 1 million residents have long been struggling to just get access to potable water due to inadequate infrastructure and contaminated water sources, according to nonprofit group Agua4All.

The situation is so grave that many low-income families have no choice but to spend upwards of 10 percent of their incomes on bottled water, because drinking from a contaminated source can lead to cancer, thyroid problems and other serious health issues. Others resort to imbibing sweetened beverages, which are safe for consumption, but are loaded with sugar, which is of particular concern in California where the diabetes rate has increased by 35 percent in the last decade.

The water is usually so contaminated that residents can’t even cook or wash with it, according to the California Endowment.

The high-profile water shortage, however, has prompted lawmakers and advocacy groups to finally make supporting these strapped communities a priority.

The state’s first-of-its-kind Office of Sustainable Water Solutions, for example, will dedicate a portion of its staff to tackling the water crisis in underserved communities.

The unit will help them apply for state and federal funds to clean up their drinking water and provide improved access to treatment technologies, according to a statement released by Senator Kevin de Leon (D-Calif.).

The group will also help these communities better allocate funds for water systems upgrades and prevent local rate increases.

A number of nonprofit groups are working to provide immediate on-the-ground solutions.

Agua4All, which launched in conjunction with a number of nonprofit groups, including Rural Community Assistance Corporation, is one such organization that’s bringing clean water systems to these struggling areas.

It kicked off in January by committing to bringing 120 water tap stations to parks, schools and health clinics in South Kern and Eastern Coachella, according to the California Endowment.

Residents can take a drink at these stations or fill up their bottles with perfectly safe drinking water. Each tap includes a certified filter that treats contaminated water.

While residents are relieved to finally see improvements after years of struggling, they say they’re surprised it took this long for it to happen.

“Ninety-nine percent of the population in Arvin buys bottled water," Salvador Partida, president of the Committee for a Better Arvin, told Al Jazeera. “I’m amazed nobody was doing anything about it until now. A lot of people need to wake up.”

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BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
California Drought