Above: Community members and students from Bobby Duke Middle School gathered at an Agua 4 All event on Friday, April 8, 2016 in Thermal, Calif. (Image: Amber Amaya/Coachella Unincorporated)
By: Amber Amaya
THERMAL, Calif. — Community members and elected officials recently celebrated the installation of 75 water bottle refilling stations in the eastern Coachella Valley thanks to the Agua 4 All pilot program.
In a community that has long struggled with high levels of arsenic in the groundwater, these new water stations are providing much-needed access to safe drinking water for local students and families.
Each water bottle refilling station has a fountain spout where people can fill up reusable water bottles, and there is also a waterspout for people to drink directly from the station. The water for the station is filtered through an on-site certified water filter.
Agua 4 All, a program of The California Endowment and the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, aims to bring safe drinking water to families in rural communities across California through the installation of these water stations in schools and community centers.
TCE and RCAC, along with local partner, Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation held an Agua 4 All rally last Friday at Toro Canyon Middle School in Thermal that brought together elected officials, community members and community organizations.
During the event, a panel of representatives described their latest efforts to prioritize water issues in the eastern Coachella Valley. The panel included Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, who spoke about his proposed legislation Assembly Bill 2124, the Safe Drinking Water in Schools bill, that would seek state funding to expand the Agua 4 All program to communities throughout the state. Assemblyman Garcia said the issue of safe drinking water has gained more attention due to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
“Some of our rural areas in California do not have the adequate infrastructure to be able to deliver on this basic human right, clean safe drinking water,” Garcia said. “We’ve been out here for a long time, saying the same thing. We’ve been the smaller Flint, Michigan talking about arsenic in our water and making sure we can take care of that.”
During a question and answer session at the Agua 4 All event, Kris, a sixth-grader from Las Palmitas Elementary School, directed a question at the entire panel.
“Do you plan on expanding this program to other schools in the area?” Kris said.
Kris, and a few other students from Las Palmitas, walked over from their school with Principal Mike Williams to attend the Agua 4 All meeting at Toro Canyon. During the last year, water stations were installed at Las Palmitas and students were given water bottles to refill at the stations. Kris said he enjoys having the water stations at his school, but he knows there’s still more work to do to increase the east valley’s access to safe drinking water
“I feel like other kids, just not us, should have clean water too,” Kris said.
After launching in the eastern Coachella Valley last year, the Agua 4 All campaign spread to Kern County, where 71 water stations have been installed to date. The program aims to eventually install water stations in rural communities throughout the entire state.