The unincorporated Fresno County community of Lanare has long been a poster child for California’s widespread contaminated drinking water. For the past 13 years, Lanare’s water had tested higher than the state limit for arsenic, but that changed in February, when the water received a passing grade after a $3.8 million state grant paid for two new drinking water wells.
Although community resident and advocate Isabel Solorio says the tap water feels a little oily, and she still runs it through her refrigerator filter, she says the project was an overall success. “Something good always comes from something bad,” she says in Spanish, “and in this case, the community came together to fight for safe drinking water.”
Veronica Garibay agrees. She’s the co-founder and co-director of the advocacy group Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “This is entirely due to the resiliency and the power of community residents who showed up, who stood up, who spoke out, who demanded respect and justice for their community,” she says.
Lanare’s situation had also highlighted shortfalls in public funding. In 2007, state grants helped the community build a treatment plant, but state funding wasn’t available to keep it running. Unable to afford the costs of ongoing maintenance, the community shut the facility down after six months, and it’s been idle ever since.
Around the state, more than 300 communities still lack access to safe drinking water. To help bring them long-term help, Solorio and Garibay both say they’ll continue to advocate for the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. Governor Newsom has approved $130 million from the budget for one year but has yet to sign a trailer bill that would sustain the fund into the future.