Water supply for underserved, marginalized communities of the Salinas Valley
Disadvantaged communities of the Salinas Valley face serious water quality issues with their main water supply source, groundwater. Findings from a 2012 study, focusing on water quality issues in the Salinas Valley, found that drinking water contamination in California disproportionately affects small, rural and low-income communities that depend mostly on groundwater as their drinking water source . 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.
The degradation of groundwater with pollutants (such as Nitrates) from agricultural fertilizers is one water quality issue . Seawater intrusion into groundwater sources due to groundwater overdraft is another. These water quality concerns threaten the primary water source for many disadvantaged communities in the Salinas Valley.
Even though state and federal agencies have water quality regulations (see Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA)), water quality for disadvantaged communities remains impaired and often expensive . For example, a 2013 report by the State Water Resources Control Board identifies 265 community public water systems that serve a little over two million and rely on contaminated groundwater with at least one drinking water quality violation . In 2012 AB 685 - California's Human Right to Water Bill was passed to improve domestic water supply conditions.
Populations Susceptible to Drinking Water Contamination
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
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 Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL) 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. Inorganic compounds detected were antimony, aluminum, chromium, iron, manganese, and TDS. 
California State Water Resources Control Board's Groundwater Ambient Monitoring 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 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.
Water Supplies Affected
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.
Law, Regulations and Policies
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 - requires “all relevant state agencies, including the department, the state board, and the State Department of Public Health, [to] consider [the] state policy when revising, adopting, or establishing policies, regulations, and grant criteria when those policies, regulations, and criteria are pertinent to the uses of water described in this section.”
AB 685 does not guarantee an enforceable right to clean, safe and affordable water, but ensures that relevant state agencies consider the policy to ensure that they advance the implementation of "the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes". Furthermore, AB 685 does not allow a community or individual with contaminated drinking water to litigate against the state, a utility company or an enforcement agency to affirm their right to clean drinking water. In contrast, individuals can file a lawsuit if a relevant state agency failed to "advance the implementation" of "the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes" when it was appropriate to do so.
Implementation of AB 685 to improve water quality conditions within under-served and marginalized communities may be a formidable challenge. Disadvantaged communities living in unincorporated parts of the Salinas Valley are often excluded from the decision making process that affects water infrastructure and availability in their communities through zoning laws. For non-English speaking residents, language becomes a barrier to accessing information and participating. Additionally, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) asserts that the SDWSRF cannot meet the drinking water needs of disadvantaged communities and that a long-term funding source for the provision of safe drinking water must be identified .
Since the law was signed three state agencies have come forth requesting more funding. Furthermore, in an Executive Officer’s Report from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board the most critical recommendation was to establish a new funding to ensure safe drinking is provided to Californians consistent with AB 685 .
Integrated Regional Water Management Program
California Department of Resources
- Salinas Valley
- Water Supply
- Water Rights
- Assessment Tool
- Environmental Justice Coalition for Water
- California Health and Safety Code 116270
- Addressing Nitrates in California’s Drinking Water, UC Davis, 2012
- Citation Needed
- Communities that Rely on Contaminated Groundwater Source for Drinking Water, SWRCB, 2013
- Ground Water Nitrates
- LA Times Story
- Chualar Water Report
- AB 685
This page may contain student work completed as part of assigned coursework. It may not be accurate. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion or policy of CSUMB, its staff, or students.