Toxic Taps

The fight for water, health and equity in California’s Central Valley and beyond

California’s five-year drought made worldwide headlines as wells went dry and thousands of people were left without water. But many of those whose taps still flow face an even more insidious threat. The state estimates that 1.5 million Californians rely on drinking water that has violated health standards. And there are 200,000 people whose water is chronically contaminated with chemicals linked to cancer and other health effects. Those numbers don’t take into account the 2 million privately owned wells that are not regulated or routinely tested for toxins. Unsafe water systems can be found all over the state, but the largest concentration is in the San Joaquin Valley, where many serve low-income communities of color.

Water Deeply’s Toxic Taps series looks at the root causes of the safe drinking water crisis in California, how communities are organizing for change and what more needs to be done. We meet families who have had to choose between buying shoes for their children and buying bottled water. We talk to health experts about the risks of common contaminants like nitrates, arsenic and agricultural pesticides. We visit small water systems struggling to pay for technology to treat contaminated water. And we talk to regulators, legislators and organizers who are working toward a future in which clean drinking water is not just legally recognized as a human right, but is readily available to all.

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Why Drinking Water in Small California Communities Is Chronically Contaminated

Operators of water systems in the San Joaquin Valley cannot afford to treat water tainted by toxins.

California’s Water Crisis Hits Home in Rural Communities

Meet residents of San Joaquin Valley towns struggling with contaminated water from community water systems and private wells.

The Fight Over Funding for Clean Drinking Water Projects

San Joaquin Valley residents rally to support Senate Bill 623, which would create a fund to clean toxic drinking water sources.

Meet California’s Newest Water Contaminant

California has finally regulated a carcinogen, 1,2,3-trichloropropane, that has been contaminating groundwater for decades.

A Young California Mayor Fights for Clean Water

José Gurrola, the 23-year-old mayor of Arvin, California, talks about the town’s fight for safe drinking water.

What Happened to California’s Chromium 6 Regulation

A judge in May scrapped a California regulation set in 2014 for hexavalent chromium (otherwise known as chromium-6) in drinking water. Here’s why, what the public health implications are and what happens next.

Mobile Home Communities in the Coachella Valley Face Dire Water, Infrastructure Needs

The eastern Coachella Valley in Southern California has a high concentration of mobile home parks that help fill a need for affordable housing. But many are not up to health and safety codes and residents face risks from unsafe water, sanitation and electricity.

Untreated Canal Water Piped to California Homes

Thousands of rural residents in California’s Imperial Valley rely on untreated canal water for household needs like cooking and bathing.

1,2,3-TCP in California Water Systems

Data provided by the State Water Resources Control Board.

Water Quality Violations in California Public Water Systems

Water quality and hexavalent chromium data provided by State Water Resources Control Board. Disadvantaged communities data provided by Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.