The trials in Flint, Mich., have transfixed the nation. Californians are worried about people halfway across the country, yet do not realize that their fellow Californians, often just a short drive away, are also impacted by unsafe drinking water.
Here in Kern County, 42 communities are currently out of compliance with safe drinking water standards. Arvin is one of them.
I am proud to serve the City of Arvin as mayor. I grew up here, so it pains me to know that my family and neighbors still must deal, day in and day out, with water contaminated by arsenic. Arsenic can cause respiratory illness, reduced mental functioning, and cancer. No one should have to turn on the tap to water that can lead to such horrible outcomes.
The Arvin Community Services District, in collaboration with city government, has spent years trying to finance drinking water solutions on its own, but the lack of funding to assist with ongoing operation and maintenance expenses has left our community with arsenic-contaminated water flowing from the taps for more than a decade.
To protect ourselves from getting sick, members of my community must use filters or buy bottled water for any and all water needs. This is expensive.
Even though California become the first state in the nation to recognize the human right to water in 2012, Arvin is one of more than 300 California communities that are currently out of compliance with safe drinking water standards.
In California, as in Flint, it is disproportionately low-income communities and communities of color that are affected by unsafe water.
This problem has gone on for far too long and we deserve a sustainable solution. Unless we do something, this problem will only worsen and grow larger. We need clean water.
State Sen. Bill Monning introduced Senate Bill 623 to advance solutions for communities like Arvin that are unable to afford safe drinking water. SB 623 would create a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund that would ensure that all Californians have access to the clean drinking water that they need and deserve. It prioritizes low-income communities that do not meet primary drinking water standards or have access to affordable water.
The bill has support from more than 80 organizations, including cities like mine as well as representatives from the agricultural industry, environmental justice organizations, faith-based groups, business, and labor. Recent polling shows that more than two-thirds of Californians would support paying a modest fee of under a dollar per month to make sure all Californians have continued access to clean drinking water. This bill is a collaborative effort to work together toward solving one of California’s significant injustices.
SB 623 recently moved out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee to the Assembly Rules Committee, and the coalition that has supported the bill so far remains committed to the fight. I urge the state legislature to take action this year. We have waited too long to let this opportunity pass by.
For Arvin, Kern County, and the hundreds of California communities that lack safe drinking water, I urge the state legislature to support SB 623 and finally make California’s promise of a human right to water a reality this year.
José Gurrola was elected mayor of Arvin in 2016. He is a graduate of Arvin High, Bakersfield College and California State University, Bakersfield.