IVAN DELGADO/Coachella Unincorporated
EASTERN COACHELLA VALLEY — With its lavish resorts and golf courses, the Coachella Valley is a getaway to some and a retirement home for others. But beyond the shadow of the country clubs and music festivals lies a Coachella Valley that is largely unknown.
“Revealing the Invisible Coachella Valley: Putting Cumulative Environmental Vulnerabilities on the Map,” a report released last week by the University of California Davis Center for Regional Change, shows the cumulative environmental health hazards of living in the Eastern Coachella Valley.
“You can see the east versus west story,” said Jonathan London, principal investigator and primary study author, “where in the west valley, there are much lower levels of environmental hazards, and much higher levels for quality of life, compared to the east.”
While this data seems to state the obvious to those living and working in the ECV, it wasn’t until recently that people outside the area began to take notice of these environmental issues. For example, a storm in September 2012 flooded mobile home parks, including Duroville, and spread the odor of decomposing organic matter from the Salton Sea to Los Angeles.
As a result, the Center for Regional Change partnered with local environmental justice, health, and farm worker advocates to document the environmental vulnerability in the area. Some of the issues that were studied included the failing water infrastructure, concentrated hazardous waste, and unauthorized dumping.
To better understand the environmental hazards, the report shows a demographic comparison between the eastern and western portions of the Coachella Valley. This analysis is necessary to understand how the areas with severe environmental hazards impact those with fewer social, economic, and political resources.
A map illustrates an assessment of the varying environmental vulnerabilities across the region.
There is also a higher concentration of impaired water bodies as compared to the rest of the county, meaning there are drinking water wells in the eastern valley that contain much higher contaminant levels for arsenic, chromium 6, perchlorate, and nitrates than are allowed by law.
A different map illustrates the levels of contaminants in the drinking water.
“Policy makers, state and local government agencies finally have the data that they need to start making changes in our troubled system,” said Celia Garcia, a Mecca schoolteacher community advocate. “For the very first time, an accurate picture of our reality and our needs has been painted for them.”
Garcia continued, “We have an enormous problem with hazardous waste and illegal dumping in our community. And while I’d like to say the waste and dumping is the biggest problem, equally disturbing is the fact that thousands of children and families are allowed to live in, around, and near such dangerous waste.”
According to the report, the unemployment and poverty rates in the ECV are much higher than the west side and the county as a whole.
The report also shows that 45 percent of the residents in the ECV are limited English speakers, opposed to the 16 percent in the west valley. Well over half the population in the ECV lives below the poverty level – 65 percent as opposed to 37 percent on the west side.
Although the recent data shows overwhelming environmental hazards in valley communities, community members are hopeful that actions will now be taken toward improving conditions. The areas highlighted in the report, like the Salton Sea, Mecca, North Shore, Coachella, and even La Quinta, could serve as a target for organized action by community advocates, elected officials, and public agencies.
The report was designed and conducted by the CRC; it was commissioned by the California Institute for Rural Studies with support from The California Endowment/ Building Healthy Communities.
The report is available for download in English or Spanish.