Falling in line with Governor Newsom’s clean water agenda outlined in the State of the State, a desert assemblyman will host state leaders Friday on a tour that highlights safe drinking water disparities facing local schools and mobile home communities in the Eastern Coachella Valley.
Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, will host state leaders — including newly appointed Chairman of the State Water Resources Control Board Joaquin Esquivel and billionaire President of the environmental advocacy group NextGen America Tom Steyer — for a tour of the Eastern Coachella Valley water facilities, according to a statement from the assemblyman.
The tour was built around what Governor Gavin Newsom called the “moral disgrace and medical emergency” of unsafe drinking during his State of the State last month.
“Just this morning, more than a million Californians woke up without clean water to bathe in or drink,” Newsom said. “Some schools have shut down drinking fountains due to contamination… [And,] There are literally hundreds of water systems across the state contaminated by lead, arsenic, or uranium.”
The Eastern Coachella Valley has long struggled with poor water quality for underprivileged communities, according to the UC Davis Center for Regional Change 2018 report, “Revealing the Invisible Coachella Valley.” The report pointed out the unique environmental issues facing Eastern Coachella Valley residents, including from failing water infrastructure, unauthorized dumping and concentrated hazardous waste.
In recent years, legislation was enacted to provide emergency funds for water filtration systems and restitution charges for residents endangered by the failing water infrastructure, according to the report. The report specifically notes the most vulnerable communities are residents of mobile home parks “with failing septic systems [that] face health risks from contact with raw sewage” and desert dwellers who rely on private well water contaminated with arsenic, lead and nitrates.
The report also noted that the Eastern Coachella Valley has multiple hazardous water treatment storage and disposal facilities next to schools and homes.
In addition to the more direct dangers of the failing water system, the environmental crisis at the Salton Sea shot to national prominence last week as several states signed the Drought Contingency Plan, a multi-state agreement water conservation deal. The controversy centered around a desert water agency — the Imperial Irrigation District — as it was excluded from the DCP for refusal to sign the deal citing a mounting public health crisis at the Salton Sea.
“The declining Salton Sea presents a severe public health and environmental crisis,” IID’s Robert Schettler said. “This is really about protecting the backyard here… Our area in the Imperial Valley is one of the poorest in the state. You know, the lowest average median income and the highest asthma rate, and we’re trying to protect those people.”
Nearly 650,000 people are affected by poor air quality in the area, according to a report from the Pacific Institute.
Asthma risks increase for underprivileged communities as fine dust leaches into the air from the Salton Sea’s receding shoreline, according to Pacific Institute. More than 100 tons of dust per day could be released into the air by 2045 if the shorelines are allowed to recede at the current rate, the institute reported.
Initially, all agencies that receive water from the Colorado River — IID is the largest single water user — should have signed it in order for the deal to be approved. But, the DCP was approved without the IID after the Colorado River Board voted to exclude the desert water agency in an 8-to-1 vote on March 18. The DCP was signed by multiple representatives from a collection of states and water agencies the next day.
Garcia will welcome leaders starting at 10 a.m. at the Coachella Public Library, 1500 6th St. with the bus tour departing at 11 a.m., according to Garcia’s spokeswoman Aurora Saldivar. The six-hour tour will include Westside Elementary, several mobile home communities in Thermal, as well as the Salton Sea.