For residents in Kettleman City, a recent meeting with the State Water Resources Control Board and other local agencies can be considered the first step in the right direction to bring clean water to the disadvantage and vulnerable community of color in southwest Kings County which has been fighting for environmental justice for so many years.
“We’ve dealt with contaminated water issue in Kettleman City for many decades and six years ago state agencies came out and did a health study where they actually recommended that the water to be cleaned up in Kettleman City for the children’s health and six years later nothing has been done,” said Maricela Mares-Alatorre, with El Pueblo/People for Clean Air & Water of Kettleman City and a long time resident of the town.
A public meeting notice invited residents to participate in the public meeting with representatives of the State Water Resources Control Board, Reef-Sunset Unified School District and Self-Help Enterprise, which presented residents with information on how they are monitoring the quality of their drinking water, the status of the projects that currently provide safe drinking water as a interim solution to the contaminated underground water problems the town face and an update on the time frame for the funding and construction of the planned drinking water treatment plant which would provide a permanent solution for residents to obtain clean drinking water.
However, the permanent solution which would be provided by the drinking water treatment plant is still a few years away of becoming a reality.
According to Joseph C. McGahan, an engineer with the Kettleman City Community Service District, the construction of the $9.6 million drinking water treatment plant will take approximately 18 months.
“It’s time to make sure that our kids can have safe drinking water just like children everywhere.” Maricela Mares-Alatorre, with El Pueblo/People for Clean Air & Water of Kettleman City and a long time resident of the town.
State funds from Proposition 1 in the amount of $7.5 million and USDA funds in the amount of $2.1 million will be used for the construction of the drinking water treatment plant.
McGahan said they hope construction of the treatment plan to start sometime in April of 2017 with the plan up and running either by the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019.
The drinking water treatment plant, which will use surface water instead of underground water, will be located near the California aqueduct, since the aqueduct will be providing the surface water for the treatment plant.
The public meeting, which took place on Aug. 31 at Kettleman City Elementary School cafeteria, aimed to answer residents’ questions and concerns by providing them with the latest information of what is being done at the state and local level to bring safe drinking water to them.
Spanish language interpretation services were also provided during the meeting as well as the power point presentation were both in English and Spanish for residents to read.
“We are glad the state agencies have come out. We hope that they really hear residents; that it is time to do something about the situation in Kettleman City,” Mares-Alatorre said. “It’s time to make sure that our kids can have safe drinking water just like children everywhere.”
The construction of the $9.6 million drinking water treatment plant will take approximately 18 months.
Residents in Kettleman City, a farmworker community with 1,500 mostly Spanish-speaking low-income residents located off Interstate 5 about halfway between Los Ángeles and San Francisco, have been struggling with the issue of contaminated underground drinking water for decades.
Mares-Alatorres said Flint, Michigan has recently been on the national news because of contaminated water issues, however many community and residents in the Central Valley like in Kettleman City have been living with that struggle for decades.
One of the concerns voiced during the meeting was if one of the interim solutions by the State Water Resources Control Board which provides bottled drinking water to Kettleman City residents and its elementary school was coming to an end.
According to Andrew DiLuccia, public information officer with the office of Public Affairs for the State Water Resources Control Board, under the State Water Board and Proposition 84 funding, Kettleman City Elementary School has been getting bottled water since January of 2013, and the community residents started getting its bottled water in May of 2013.
James Maughan, assistant deputy director with the State Water Resource Control Board’s division of financial assistance, said its agency is committed to continue to provide safe drinking water to Kettleman City residents until the drinking water treatment plant is up and running.
“It’s a guarantee,” Maughan said. “We are very concern about the community and them no drinking contaminated water.”
On Aug. 10, Greenaction for health and Environmental Justice and El Pueblo Para el Aire y Agua Limpia/People for Clean Air & Water of Kettleman City announced a historic agreement with the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the California Environmental Protection Agency to resolve Greenaction and El Pueblo’s civil rights complaint over DTSC’s 2014 decision to approve a permit to expand the Kettleman Hills hazardous waste landfill in rural Kings County.
Bradley Angel, executive director for Greenaction said part of the civil rights settlement was a state commitment to work with agencies to inform and update Kettleman City residents, and to try to expedite the project.
Angel said it appears that the public meeting might have been in response to that settlement.
Accoring to Angel the Aug. 31 meeting was scheduled by the State one day after California EPA and the DTSC reached a landmark civil rights settlement with El Pueblo and Greenaction.
El Pueblo and Greenaction filed a federal Title VI civil rights complaint against state agencies in 2015 alleging racial discrimination in the state’s permitting of the expansion of the controversial Chemical Waste Management Kettleman Hills hazardous waste landfill.
The settlement contains precedent-setting civil rights protections for Latino and non-English speaking residents of Kettleman City and other similar communities.
The settlement also commits the state to try to expedite approval of the clean water project, and to support efforts for community health, pollution reduction and air monitoring programs.