Sunday, May 3, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Just Us in Davis: Clean, accessible water is a human right

By
From page A10 | February 03, 2013 |

By Jonathan London

Imagine a typical morning: You wake up, stumble into the bathroom to wash your face and brush your teeth. Out of habit, you reach down to turn on the tap. Just in time you remember, and pull your hand away, turning instead to the container of bottled water perched on the shelf.

The bottle label bears the name of the nearest grocery store, 30 miles away, where you ride the once-daily bus to do your shopping. You reflect on the cost of this trip, the bottled water and your bill for water that you can’t drink or cook with.

You remember the last time you did not reach your toddler in time and she gulped down mouthfuls of water that you have learned is laced with arsenic, nitrates and other contaminants. How frightened you were. When the water runs brown and stinks of rotten eggs, it is easier to avoid, but there are wells in your community with chemicals that are invisible to the eye, tongue and nose.

Is this nightmare scenario a ghost of things to come for Davis if it does not switch from ground water wells to surface water supplies, as is currently being hotly debated? Maybe, but it is also the everyday reality of thousands of residents of communities throughout the rural areas of the state.

In 2011, Catarina de Albuquerque, the first United Nations special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, toured California’s Central Valley and other rural regions. Her assessment was bleak.

“The goal of universal access to clean and safe water has yet to be attained,” she said. “Infants, older persons, persons with certain medical conditions and other vulnerable groups remain at risk from exposure to water that does not meet federal standards. Moreover, hundreds of substances found in water remain unregulated, and some sources of water, namely private drinking water supplies, are also unregulated.”

In the face of this profound challenge Albuquerque’s recommendation was visionary.

“Ensuring the rights to water and sanitation for all requires a paradigm shift toward new designs and approaches that promote human rights, that are affordable and that create more value in terms of public health improvements, community development and global ecosystem protection,” she said.

In the years since this historic visit, comprehensive studies by professor Thomas Harter and colleagues at UC Davis on nitrates in drinking water in the San Joaquin and Salinas valleys as well as researchers at UC Berkeley on the concentration of polluted drinking water in predominately Latino rural communities have affirmed the broad findings of the U.N. report.

This research also has catalyzed a major push by environmental justice and health advocates and their allies in the state Legislature to move legislation that establishes a human right to water. AB 685, The Human Rights to Water Act, sponsored by Mike Eng, D-Alhambra, capped a two-year campaign that also included a bill (SB 244) by Lois Wolk, D-Davis, that directs cities and counties to better document and improve the infrastructure of disadvantaged unincorporated communities.

Upon passage of AB 983 to support consolidation of small water systems to promote clean drinking water investments, bill sponsor Henry Perea, D-Fresno, commented, “When we talk about the need for clean water, we are not talking about faraway Third World countries, we are talking about communities not far from where we all live.”

Perea’s words should be considered carefully as Davis debates the investments in surface sources for drinking water, as well as a regional wastewater system. Putting aside, for the moment, the quality of the water from our taps, the majority of Davis residents can afford bottled water if they choose, they can purchase this from nearby grocery stores and the community has the wealth to invest in improved water delivery and treatment systems.

While residents of Davis do not face the dire circumstances of those elsewhere in rural California, these communities are “not far from where we all live.” It is the farmworkers in these nearby communities in the Central Valley who produce much of the bounty for our tables.

Despite our relative privilege, all is not well in Davis. Drinking water drawn from ever-deeper wells shows high levels of contamination with hazardous chemicals. Nitrate levels (associated with health problems such as “blue baby syndrome”) in Davis drinking water approach the water quality limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and concentrations of chromium 6 far exceed — 10 to 100 times — the public health goal set by the California EPA. Neither nitrates nor chromium 6 are found at levels of health risk in water from the Sacramento River.

This is strong evidence for the value of shifting the city’s water source from its current ground water wells to the surface water of the Sacramento River. As we consider this new direction, we ought also to remember the communities not far from where we all live and the shared human right to clean drinking water we all share.

— Jonathan London, Ph.D., is a Davis resident and parent. He shares this monthly column with Jann Murray-García. Reach him at [email protected]

Comments

comments

Jonathan London

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Council to hear about drought pricing

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

     
    Breaking barriers: For Prieto, it’s all about hard work

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    For the record

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    Peaceful Baltimore demonstrators praise top prosecutor

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Nigeria: Nearly 300 freed women, children led to safety

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Graveyard thefts land three Woodlanders behind bars

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A3

    Downtown altercation leads to injuries

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A3

     
    Woman arrested for brandishing knife on overpass

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A3

    Yolo DA launches monthly newsletter

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Can plants talk? UCD prof will answer that question

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    A Scottish setting for local author’s next book

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    Fee proposed on rail cars that haul oil, other flammables

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    Indoor Fun Fly comes to Woodland

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Garamendi votes against energy, water development bill

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Free beginner yoga class offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Video discusses surveillance of prostate cancer

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    NAMI support group meets May 10

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Dr. G featured on the radio

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Internships move UCD doctoral students beyond academia

    By Julia Ann Easley | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Make Mom a warm vanilla sugar scrub

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

     
    The secret to Mother’s Day gifting success: Give time, not stuff

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

    Letter book is series of collected missives thanking Mom

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

     
    If your mom fancies something fancy, consider a tea party

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

    Out of Africa and back to Davis: James Carey will give special presentation

    By Kathy Keatley Garvey | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    Big Day of Giving makes philanthropy easy

    By Tanya Perez | From Page: A10 | Gallery

    Tuleyome Tales: How are a snake and a mushroom alike?

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12 | Gallery

     
    Tuleyome hosts Snow Mountain camping trip

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12 | Gallery

    .

    Forum

    Please help Baltimore

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

     
    End of life doesn’t mean life must end

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4 | Gallery

    Advancing education for California’s former foster youths

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

     
    With sincere gratitude

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

    A wonderful day of service

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

     
    Eyewitness to the ‘fall’ of Vietnam: It was not a bloodbath

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5 | Gallery

    He can’t give it up

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B6

     
     
    Dangers from prescription pills

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B6

    .

    Sports

     
    Defending champ DHS clinches a baseball playoff berth

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    UCD softball splits with Titans

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Trifecta of Devil teams open playoffs Tuesday

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Sports briefs: DHS boys win to reach lacrosse playoffs

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    Making memories at Aggie Stadium

    By Wayne Tilcock | From Page: B3 | Gallery

    Pro baseball roundup: Hudson pitches Giants past Angels

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B12

     
    UCD roundup: Aggie women speed past Hornets

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    Arcadia partners on soybean trait to improve yield

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    Marrone opens new greenhouse

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    New firm helps students on path to college

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A8

    Yolo County real estate sales

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, May 3, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8