Reporting Projects Tackle Big San Joaquin Valley Issues

Sep 22, 2017

Two new reporting projects launched this year by Valley Public Radio's news team are helping to highlight pressing issues facing residents across the San Joaquin Valley, including water pollution and the regional shortage of doctors. 

"We think it's important to take the time to do real in-depth reporting on some of these issues. And while a lot of our coverage is focused on illustrating problems where they exist, we're also looking to focus on possible solutions too," says Valley Public Radio's Director of Program Content Joe Moore. 

The series "Contaminated: Dirty Water In California's San Joaquin Valley" is focused on a long-running problem that has been largely ignored for decades: thousands of valley residents who have tap water that is unsafe to drink. While state lawmakers made headlines several years ago when they passed a law declaring California residents have a human right to clean water, in many cases it currently exists only on paper. Earlier in 2017, state data revealed 300 communities in the state have water that is unsafe to drink. And many of those communities are in the San Joaquin Valley. 

The series began with reporters Kerry Klein and Ezra David Romero explaining the scope of the overall problem, which plagues communities across the region, and ranges from naturally occurring contaminants to manmade pollution. The reporting has gone on to cover the entire region from Bakersfield, where a complex web of over two dozen water systems makes finding a solution difficult, to Oakhurst, where efforts to clean up naturally occurring uranium pollution may finally be at a crossroads thanks to a planned new treatment plant.

We also learned how infrastructure alone isn't always enough to fix the problem. In Lanare, residents can't afford to operate a federally funded treatment plant, and thus are still face with arsenic-laced water coming out of their taps. And in the Madera Ranchos, we learned how well-meaning state regulations can sometimes actually slow down the process of finding a solution to pollution problems. 

And in Tulare County, where many communities struggle with nitrate pollution, we learned about one group of residents who are essentially on their own - private domestic well owners, and about a new program that aims to help families discover if their water is safe to drink. 

Struggling For Care
Much like the water pollution problem, the San Joaquin Valley's shortage of doctors has been going on for decades. However, in an era where the health care industry is in a state of constant change, our reporting seeks to offer new insights into the causes of the problem, and offer some potential solutions too.

Reporter Kerry Klein's project "Struggling For Care" is a part of the California Health Journalism Fellowship for the USC Annenberg-based Center For Health Journalism. It's a four-part series which also included a live public forum at the station's broadcast center. The series began by examining the real-life stories of people who have felt first hand the doctor shortage, placing the local problem in context, both within California and in the nation. 

The series went on to explore how medical residency programs may be a key to bringing more doctors to the valley. However, in the reporting we learn that a now obscure federal law from over two decades ago makes it difficult for local residency programs to expand with federal support. 

We also learn how the much heralded expanded scope of practice for pharmacists might help alleviate some of the problem, but in reality, federal policy again stands in the way. And finally we learned how possible changes to federal immigration policy have some concerned about a potential disruption in the valley supply of international medical graduates.