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Monterey County Community Organizes For Clean Tap Water

A lot of money will soon be flowing into California communities with contaminated drinking water thanks to the new Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund.  Today at its meeting, the State Water Board will talk about how to implement that $1.4-billion program.

One community that could use the help is north of Moss Landing.  That’s where Ignacio Garcia lives with his family.  

At his house, it’s easier to get fresh eggs than a glass of fresh, clean water.  Here the chickens roam freely. But the drinking water doesn’t come from the tap.  Garcia has to buy it at the grocery store.

“We're for sure spending I think about $380, $400 a month on water,” says Garcia in Spanish.  His interview was later translated into English.

Garcia and his family own a sprawling piece of property on one of several county roads between Highway 1 and the ocean.  Farm fields growing strawberries and lettuce surround the homes. Around here, homes rely on wells for water.


“Two years after I moved here, I did an analysis of the well and in fact it came out that the well was contaminated with nitrates,” he says.

He’s not the only one with this problem.  Recently, other wells in his neighborhood were tested.  Results show all have at least one contaminant above the legal limit.  


That includes high levels of nitrates, and in some wells, a chemical known as 1-2-3 TCP.  It’s a carcinogen. The chemical used to be added to pesticides, but was banned decades ago. 

“And so we're still finding that here in our drinking water,” says Cesar Garcia Lopez, a Community Organizer with the Community Water Center.

Garcia Lopez and his co-worker Mayra Hernadez have been connecting with neighbors in this community for almost a year.  They helped organize the well testing. Garcia Lopez says people here already knew their tap water was not safe to drink.

“But then this well testing program, we really help people understand what is really in their water.  Why they're not supposed to be drinking their water. And so it became even more urgent for people to, you know, be drinking bottled water,” says Garcia Lopez.

Since then, they’ve continued to knock on doors to keep the community organized.  Recently, they were out spreading the news that bottled water will now be provided free in this neighborhood.  It’s paid for by a state grant.  

But bottled water is a short term solution.  Long term solutions are more complicated.

“So solutions can be like connecting small water systems and private wells to a larger water system. It could be putting treatment into these wells so that then you can treat and remove the nitrate. But it's all really expensive,” says Garcia Lopez.

Before now, there was little point in even talking about these ideas.  The state’s new Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund changes that. 

“Our objective is to get families onto clean water systems,” says State Senator Bill Monning from Carmel. He authored the legislation that created the fund.

It will get $130-million every year through 2030.  The money will be controlled by the State Water Board.  It can be used to build projects and pay for ongoing maintenance. 

“The prioritization will be the best bang for the buck so to speak. How can we invest that money, which sounds like a lot but when you spread it across the state some of our priorities will be where can we consolidate a water system with a larger one that is producing clean safe drinking water. In some cases that will be the best investment,” says Monning.

Back north of Moss Landing, community organizer Mayra Hernandez says in order for this neighborhood to have a seat at that table, people have to stay engaged on the water issue. 

“We have a saying in Spanish.  ‘La union hace la fuerza,' so 'unity gives us power.'  So if we come together as a collective there’s more power and we can get more resources to come to our community,” says Hernandez.

Ignacio Garcia helped the Community Water Center lobby for the free drinking water grant.  It’ll mean a huge savings for his family.  

“I could be using (the money) for something else, like for my house payment, for my kids' education,” says Garcia.

But what he really hopes for is a long term solution that will bring his family tap water that is clean and safe. 

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.
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