360,000 Californians Have Unsafe Drinking Water. Are You One Of Them?
At the Shiloh elementary school near Modesto, drinking fountains sit abandoned, covered in clear plastic.
At Mom and Pop's Diner, a fixture in the Merced County town of Dos Palos, regulars ask for bottled water because they know better than to consume what comes out of the tap.
And in rural Alpaugh, a few miles west of Highway 99 in Tulare County, residents such as Sandra Meraz have spent more than four decades worrying about what flows from their faucets.
"You drink the water at your own risk," said Meraz, 77. "And that shouldn't be. We have families here with young children."
An estimated 360,000 Californians are served by water systems with unsafe drinking water, according to a McClatchy analysis of data compiled by the State Water Resources Control Board. In many communities, people drink, shower, cook and wash dishes with water containing excessive amounts of pollutants, including arsenic, nitrates and uranium.
The state's water problem, however, is far more pervasive than that number indicates. At least 6 million Californians are served by water providers that have been in violation of state standards at some point since 2012, according to McClatchy's analysis. In some areas, contaminated water is such a common occurrence, residents have almost come to expect it.
"It's ubiquitous," said Darrin Polhemus, the state water board's deputy director for drinking water. "It's pretty extensive across broad swaths."
Now, after years of half solutions, the state is considering its most comprehensive actions to date. Gov. Jerry Brown has asked the Legislature to enact a statewide tax on drinking water to fix wells and treatment systems in distressed communities. Residents and businesses would pay a tax on their monthly water bills, while agriculture would contribute through taxes on fertilizer purchases and fees paid by dairy farmers and feedlot operators.
For the average Californian, the tax would mean paying an additional $11.40 per year.