AMBER AMAYA/ Coachella Unincorporated
THERMAL, Calif. — Agua 4 All, a pilot project that aims to bring clean drinking water to rural communities across California, launched Wednesday at the San Jose Community Center in Thermal, Calif.
The project will fund the installation of water bottle refilling stations, or “taps,” in schools and other locations accessible to community members in rural parts of California where access to clean drinking water is often scarce.
The eastern Coachella Valley is the first location to pilot the tap program; a similar program is being replicated in South Kern County.
Sergio Carranza, executive director of Pueblo Unido CDC, said this project will aid 150,000 residents in the eastern Coachella Valley and South Kern County who lack access to safe drinking water in their communities due to high levels of naturally occurring arsenic found in their groundwater.
“Today, this initiative marks a historical event and a new initiative where we are focused on creating new resources, leveraging more opportunities and working together with the community to change the way we receive water,” said Carranza at the morning press conference. “We are changing the culture of drinking water; we are creating a new habit of drinking water.”
Two tap stations have been installed in the San Jose Community center. And 120 more stations are expected to be installed in the eastern Coachella Valley and South Kern County, according to Stanley Keasling, the chief executive officer of the Rural Communities Assistance Corporation (RCAC).
Each water bottle refilling station has a fountain spout where people can fill up reusable water bottles, and there is also a water spout for people to drink directly from the station. The water for the station is filtered through an on-site certified water filter.
Silvia Paz, director of Building Healthy Communities Eastern Coachella Valley, said the Agua 4 All campaign helps fulfill a commitment The California Endowment made to 14 underserved communities in California to improve community health.
In 2011, the UCLA Center for Health Policy research published a survey that showed 58% of children (age 2-17) in the eastern Coachella Valley drank soda or a sugary beverage the day before the survey was administered.
Paz said it is difficult to ask east valley residents to drink more water when their access to clean drinking water limited. Many families, who do not have access to clean water, often choose to purchase sodas or other, more affordable, sugary beverages.
“This work is a smaller strategy of the big picture that we’re trying to achieve here in the eastern Coachella Valley when it comes to access to water,” Paz said. “We realize that it shouldn’t be a privilege to open your tap and get water that you can drink; it should be your right.”
Still, that isn’t the case for many residents in the eastern Coachella Valley, despite California’s Human Right to Water Bill, which dictates that access to safe drinking water is a basic human right.
“It’s a right for everyone, all of [California’s] citizens, not just those in big cities,” said Kyle Ochenduszko, a water quality engineer for the State Water Resources Control Board. “So we’re encouraged by the efforts of the RCAC (Rural Communities Assistance Corporation) and Pueblo Unido to expand clean drinking water to new and other communities that have previously been underserved.”
Keasling said he hopes the Agua 4 All program will soon expand to other underserved rural communities.