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Low Income Communities Drowning In Water Debt, New California Water Board Survey Finds

Ezra David Romero
Valley Public Radio

Low income communities across the San Joaquin Valley and other regions of the state are being hit hard by rising water and utility debt according to a recent survey released by the California Water Board. 

Michael Claiborne, an attorney with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, says residents are having to decide which essential service to pay for amid a global pandemic. 

“Water is a human right in California. Folks shouldn’t be forced to make difficult decisions between paying for water and paying for rent,” he said.

The results of the survey show an estimated 1.6 billion Californian households are behind on their water and utility bills. And Claiborne says areas with small water systems, like Tooleville in Tulare County, face an even larger threat with a major loss in revenue. 

“We worry that water systems won’t be able to pay electric bills for their ground water wells,” he said. “That they won't be able to replace pumps if the pump breaks.”

And that would leave residents without access to clean drinking water, Claiborn said. That’s why community organizations are pushing state legislators to pass SB 223 and SB 222, that would create a water affordability program and extend shut off protections for low income households. 

Madi Bolanos covered immigration and underserved communities for KVPR from 2020-2022. Before joining the station, she interned for POLITCO in Washington D.C. where she reported on US trade and agriculture as well as indigenous women’s issues during the Canadian election. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in anthropology from San Francisco State University. Madi spent a semester studying at the Danish Media and Journalism School where she covered EU policies in Brussels and alleged police brutality at the Croatian-Serbian border.
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