Saturday, August 9, 2008

a jolt of privilege

Thursday we hauled down I-5 and 99 through the Central Valley into Fresno, and Friday we drove on into Visalia. We had wonderful hosts at the UU Fellowship of Visalia who served us a yummy potluck meal, provided home hospitality, and let some of us sleep peacefully in their church nestled among walnut orchards.

Before going to sleep and eating dinner last night, we had an opportunity to visit local organizers in small towns near Visalia. At the helm was Susanna, an amazing woman leader at the Community Water Center (CWC) in Visalia who is working like crazy to bring the water issues to the political forefront.

As we started our gathering with CWC, they asked us to introduce ourselves and say whether or not we ever buy bottled water. Yours truly got really puffed up because guess what? I made a commitment a couple of years ago to not buy bottled water. And I'm pretty proud that I drink tap water.

But guess what else? Drinking tap water is a *privilege* because there are people in California (poor with brown skin) who cannot drink the water that comes out of the tap.

Let me repeat - there are people in California who own their own homes, who work, who have families, who have children in school, who cannot drink or cook with the water that comes out of their own kitchen sink. They pay around $70.00 month for public water they cannot drink, and spend an additional $40-80.00 a month for bottled water.

Why? One reason is the groundwater used for their water (in East Orosi and Tooleville) is contaminated with harmful levels of nitrates. The cause? Likely it's seeping in from the 1600 dairies located in the Central Valley, from old septic tanks, and fertilizer from agriculture.

What is the responsibility of the rest of us who never have to think about nitrates when we turn on the tap?

What does it mean that clean water traveling in aqueducts, fed by mountain snow packs, passes right by these communities but they cannot tap into it because it is already allocated for agriculture use?

And for those 22 million people living in southern California, what does it mean that a huge amount of our water travels down to us, via canals and aqueducts, over 600 miles?

Water - it's so beautiful, so vital, so essential, and oh so complicated.

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