I spent 15 years in public education working for the Delano Joint Union High School District’s business office so I understand how families need to feel assured that the local K-12 schools are safe, especially when it comes to the water they drink everyday while in class.
Today, many of our school districts are not getting their water tested. You would think after the water crisis in Flint, Mich., that all public entities in the United States would be testing their tap water regularly and making the results available to the public.
It has been reported that nearly two-thirds of California’s 1,028 school districts haven’t tested their water taps for lead. That’s nearly 700 school districts who have not taken advantage of a free state testing program to determine whether toxic metal is coming out of their faucets. Among the 330 school districts that have started or completed the federal standard testing, about one in five of those school districts have exceeded the acceptable limits for lead contamination. Most of these school districts have routinely ignored this water testing and don’t see the urgency with this dire situation.
Kern County, along with Tulare, Fresno and Madera counties, have 40 percent of the approximately 1,600 public water violations in the Central Valley. According to the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, the San Joaquin Valley has the highest concentration of water pollution in its schools.
Last year, it was reported that at a school in the Lakeside Union School District in Bakersfield, students, faculty and all on-site personnel were drinking bottled water for far too long. This school’s tap water contained arsenic, uranium, and at one point cyanide.
Our local Assembly member Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) has been proactive with AB 2541, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law at the end of the last legislative session. This bill assists severely disadvantaged communities by receiving grant funding from the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for water projects that improve access to safe drinking water. There’s money available to address the water quality in our schools and communities in Sacramento, and we need to make sure that we’re getting our fair share.
In my hometown of Delano, the city secured grant money in 2014 to remove nitrates from our drinking water. The grant funded a three-year pilot project to remove the nitrates and other contaminants with a low energy, green system. We have also been proactive about closing contaminated wells.
With that same resolve, I believe that our county public officials need to monitor the water quality issue in our communities with greater urgency. Our residents should not be dependent on costly bottled water given that access to clean drinking water should be a part of any school our children attend. Recently, a Kern County grand jury found that Rand Communities Water District, which oversees water services for the eastern Kern desert communities, had levels of arsenic in the water that occasionally rose above state requirements.
I think about clean water all the time, especially when I think about my great-grandchildren who are enrolled in school here in Kern County. I want them and all of our children to be able to adequately hydrate at school so they are healthy and able to focus on their studies. It’s time to stop putting our children at risk with unsafe drinking water.
Grace Vallejo is the mayor of Delano. She can be reached at email@example.com.