Water supply for underserved, marginalized communities of the Salinas Valley
Water supply for disadvantaged communities of the Salinas Valley
On September 25th, 2012, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 685, making California the first state within the U.S. to recognize the human right to water. AB 685 - California's Human Right to Water Bill - mandates safe drinking water access and affordability to all Californians as part of California's state policy. Agencies charged with implementation of water policies must make the basic human right of access to affordable, potable water part of their decision making process.
In the Salinas Valley, disadvantaged communities face several challenges with respect to water quality. The degradation of ground water with pollutants such as Nitrates from agricultural fertilizers is one challenge. Seawater intrusion into fresh water aquifers due to over-pumping for both agricultural and urban use is another. These water quality concerns coupled with the fact that groundwater is the primary water source for the Salinas Valley, make the goals of AB 685 a formidable challenge.
Furthermore, disadvantaged communities living in unincorporated parts of the Salinas Valley are often excluded from the decision making process that effects water infrastructure and availability in their communities through zoning laws. For non-English speaking residents, language becomes a barrier to accessing information and participating.
Some of the larger disadvantaged communities in the Salinas Valley are Chualar, Gonzales, Greenfield, King City, Salinas, and Soledad. There are several unincorporated communities in the Salinas Valley that are not accounted for by the US Census.
Contaminants of Concern
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) tested 711 public water supply wells in the Central Coast Hydrologic Region in 2003. One hundred twenty wells (17%) had exceeded MCL levels for various contaminants. The contaminants in the public supply water wells were nitrates (55%), radiological (15%), inorganic (17%), volatile and semi-volatile compounds (8%), and pesticides (5%). Nitrate contamination was both nitrate and nitrate+nitrite. Radiological contaminants are gross alpha, radium, and uranium. Pesticides detected were Heptachlor and Di(2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate. Inorganics detected were antimony, aluminum, chromium, iron, manganese, and TDS. 
California State Water Resources Control Board's Groundwater Ambient Montoring and Assessment Program (GAMA) released a study in 2011 which focused on private domestic supply wells in six counties. Monterey County was one of the focus areas and 79 wells were included in the Monterey County focus area. Exact locations of the wells are not disclosed in the report but the wells were located in and near the cities of Aromas, Bradley, Carmel, Carmel Valley, Castroville, Chualar, Gonzales, Greenfield, Lockwood, Prunedale, Royal Oaks, Soledad, and Watsonville. Samples from 50 wells in the study had test results for at least one chemical above a maximum contaminant level (MCL). Thallium was detected most frequently and coliform, nitrate, and perchlorate were the next most frequently detected contaminants.
The primary contaminant of concern to human health within the Salinas Valley is Nitrate. In March 2012, the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB) partnered with UC Davis to conduct pilot studies to understand the cause of Nitrate pollution of ground water in Tulare Lake Basin and the Salinas Valley. 
The study identified agricultural fertilizers and animals waste applied to farmland to be the primary source of nitrate pollution in groundwater. The study also noted that small communities are disproportionately affected by contaminated ground water as treatment and conveyance of clean water to these communities costs too much, making safe water unaffordable.
In San Jerardo, a small community on the outskirts of Salinas, residents receive water from privately owned and operated wells. Although the water was found to be contaminated with Nitrates above the Safe Drinking Water Standards in 2001, residents continue to pay $35-$45 per month for tap water that is undrinkable .
The nearby town of Chualar receives water through California American Water Company (Cal-Am). Rates jumped by 1000% when Monterey County sold water rights to Cal-Am. Only after residents protested were the rates decreased to pre-privatization levels.
Populations Susceptible to Drinking Water Contamination in the Salinas Valley
Households in the Salinas Valley are unusually dependent on groundwater compared to most of California. Households that rely on groundwater use and are part of low income communities with small water systems are most susceptible to nitrate contamination of their drinking water. There are over 100 small water systems that are documented and monitored and have had at least one incident of nitrate contamination over the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrate. Approximately 2.6% of the Salinas Valley population uses unregulated and unmonitored wells and is susceptible to contaminated drinking water. 
|Community||Median Income ($/year)||Percent of Median Income||Percent Latino/Black/API*/Native American|
|Central Coast||58,880 - 66,500||1.02||47.8|
API* = Asian/Pacific Islander
Integrated Regional Water Management Program
- Salinas Valley
- Water Supply
- Water Rights
- Assessment Tool
- Environmental Justice Coalition for Water
- California Health and Safety Code 116270
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