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Report: For Many Communities Without Drinking Water, Distance Not Biggest Obstacle

Ezra David Romero
Valley Public Radio
A Lanare resident walks past a water treatment plant that locals can't afford to maintain to rid their tap water of arsenic.

A new study identifies those San Joaquin Valley residents without access to drinking water, but a solution may be close at hand.

Hundreds of thousands residents in the San Joaquin Valley lack access to clean drinking water. This is especially common in unincorporated communities categorized as disadvantaged, which are also overwhelmingly Hispanic.

When Jonathan London and his colleagues looked at where these communities are located, they found something surprising. London is a professor with the UC Davis Center for Regional Change and the lead author on the new report.

"We found that the majority of those, about 66 percent of those residents, actually live within one mile of a water system that could provide them safe drinking water," he says.

But London says connecting those water systems, a process called consolidation, is expensive, and there’s not always political support for disadvantaged unincorporated communities, or DUCs.

"In some cases the counties and incorporated cities have not wanted to include those DUCs within their investments," he says.

London suggests mandating consolidations under a law signed in 2015, or supporting a new bill that would create a statewide drinking water fund.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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