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Shifting the Current Toward Water Justice

With summer approaching quickly and snowpack rapidly melting, what will Californians face as the temperatures start to climb? I start to think about the parched Central Valley and the hard-working families that call this agricultural mecca of the United States home.

Let’s take a step back: In 2014, East Porterville, CA made national headlines for running out of water. In early 2015, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, signed drought relief legislation to provide water to Central Valley families affected by the drought. The $687.4 million was not meant to provide a permanent fix, but rather a temporary solution to get families through the brunt of the drought. Later that year, Tulare County was awarded a $1.2 million CA Department of Water Resources grant that would drill a well to help bring some water back to East Porterville. Progress, right?

Not so much. Last week, Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Stevens brought East Porterville into the limelight once again by calling out state and local agencies’ inability to agree on who should receive the water from the new well. He writes, “The County had agreed to sell the well to the city of Porterville, which had staff members who could operate it. But the city, county and state disagreed on who should get water from the project.” As Matt notes, “infighting trumped people’s desperate need for water.” This makes no sense.

Why do so many families in California, one of the top ten economies in the world, have to shower in parking lots and have bottled water delivered to their home? Why are residents of the Golden State facing exacerbated health problems and a higher risk of mental health issues all because bureaucratic squabbling got in the way? Not to mention the disturbing report that was recently released by the Community Water Center about the disproportionate burden that’s placed on Central Valley children who are subjected to unsafe drinking water at school.

We need leadership, funding, and action for long-term solutions to California’s, and the West’s, water problem in the face of climate change. We can no longer rely on quick fixes and half-baked solutions. So many people of the Central Valley are working hard to shift the current toward solutions that include water justice. Their voices are integral to these solutions and must continue to be heard.

I do applaud CA’s DWR for stepping in to build the pipeline for the residents of East Porterville. While it’s not scheduled to be completed until 2017, there is a sense of hope that we, as a society, are flowing toward a more just and equitable water future.

The fight is not yet over, to which we say, Carpe Diem!

Lauren Barnum

Lauren 2


May 11, 2016


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