Coronavirus forces California farmworkers to scramble for safe drinking water

Some 1 million residents of California farmworker communities have relied for years on bottled water because their tap water is tainted with nitrate and other agricultural pollutants. Now, as stores ration water to prevent hoarding during the coronavirus crisis, these residents are relying on friends and family, or driving many miles to bigger towns in search of water, reports Liza Gross in FERN’s latest story.

“California has known about the tainted tap water for decades, but efforts to solve the problem have been piecemeal,” Gross writes. “Last year, the state passed a law to supplement existing programs and guarantee long-term funding for water system infrastructure and regular bottled water deliveries for communities with water systems containing nitrate and other contaminants, which have been linked to cancer and other health problems. But funds for the Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience Program (SAFER) — which doesn’t cover every community with tainted water — won’t be available until July. And, more importantly, many communities will still be left out.

“Lucy Hernandez, who lives in West Goshen, a tiny farming town in the San Joaquin Valley, couldn’t even find enough bottled water in nearby Visalia, one of the biggest cities in the valley, for her family and friends with contaminated water.

“ ‘I’m doing the census here in the community and everybody is telling me the same thing,’ Hernandez says. ‘They can’t find water in the stores, and a lot of people can’t even find food.’ ”