Global experts on water (for example Steven Solomon in Water: The Epic Struggle for Weatlth, Power and Civilization) consider that California has built the most advanced water-delivery systems in the world. Yet the United Nations "independent investigator for the U.N.'s safe water and sanitation campaign" has decided to study two places in California, a tiny village in Tulare County and the City of Redding. The investigator compares the water situation of the Tulare village of Seville with water problems in Bangladesh as a Congressional research report several years ago unfavorably compared the San Joaquin Valley to Appalachia.
Valley business and political leaders, always ready to spend other people's money on vast projects like a high speed railroad, new reservoirs or the perennial favorite -- cotton subsidies -- for the benefit of the wealthy few to the detriment of the many inhabitants who will experience more environmental degradation as a result, have absolutely not taste for repair and maintenance or anything from deteriorating dams to rusty municipal water pipes. And they are correct. There is apparently no point in a political economy veering ever closer to the simple, disastrous ideal of a "self-regulating free market" in absolutely everything, of taking care of people or the infrastructure that supports society.
We all know that the poor little town of Seville, Tulare County, is neither the only town like it in the valley with tainted water nor is it going to get a better water-delivery system as a result of the UN's special rapporteur's report.
We think there are two primary reasons why nothing is going to happen. First, the entire culture appears to be against maintenance and repair at the moment. Another aspect of the collective amnesia is forgetting how to fix anything. Secondly, the UN has about as much clout in Tulare County as the government of Sri Lanka. The town of Seville might rate a few more minor newspaper stories before slipping into its customary oblivion.
Badlands Journal editorial board
U.N. studies Tulare Co. town's tainted water
International attention to be focused on Valley town's water woes…Mark Grossi
SEVILLE -- Water contamination in the tiny Tulare County town of Seville has drawn the attention of a United Nations effort to make safe water a human rights issue.
On Tuesday, a United Nations lawyer investigating unsafe drinking water around the globe made Seville, plagued for decades by contamination, one of only three U.S. communities she'll examine.
The lawyer, Catarina de Albuquerque of Portugal, said the United Nations has no authority
to force any changes. But her report later this year will help advocacy groups lobby for permanent fixes. Clean water, she said, is a basic human right.
The 350 residents of Seville, north of Visalia, receive water from a single well through a delivery system with corroding and cracked pipes, said resident Rebecca Quintana, 54, who grew up in the area. Because the tap water is contaminated, many residents buy bottled water.
The town's Stone Corral Elementary School buys bottled water and does not allow students to drink from the fountains.
Although de Albuquerque has not reached any conclusions about U.S. problems, she said she has witnessed Third World conditions in this country.
"Unfortunately, some situations are similar to some of the most dramatic problems in places like Bangladesh," de Albuquerque said. She did not identify communities where problems are the worst.
Besides Seville, she visited areas near Boston and the Northern California community of Redding. The U.N. lawyer spoke about water contamination issues with state officials in Sacramento this week and federal officials in Washington D.C. last week.
De Albuquerque has been traveling the world since 2008 when she was named the independent investigator for the U.N.'s safe water and sanitation campaign. She has been to Costa Rica, Japan, Slovenia, Uruguay and Namibia, among others.
The United States was included because U.N. officials want to look at situations in a broad range of countries.
Seville was picked as an example of rural communities all over Tulare County and other parts of Central California. U.N. officials learned of the town's problem by talking with the nonprofit activist group Community Water Center in Visalia.
Seville and other Tulare County communities, such as Tonyville, East Orosi and Ducor, have problems with contamination from nitrates, which come from farm fertilizers, sewage treatment plants and septic systems.
Nitrates are linked to cancer and deprive an infant of oxygen in the blood -- a sometimes fatal condition called "blue-baby syndrome."
The small towns cannot afford to repair or replace their wells and water delivery systems, said Laurel Firestone, a co-director of the Community Water Center.
Tulare County officials are working with rural towns to get grants, but state money is tight and residents must wait for better times.
"The people who live here are paying for water with their limited income and their own health," she said.
Seville's residents have an average annual income of about $16,000, Firestone said.
They pay $60 a month for water from the well, and many pay an additional $60 a month for bottled water.\
Quintana took de Albuquerque on a short tour, showing her where the tap water pipes run through an irrigation canal. Quintana said irrigation water seeps into the tap water line, which draws sand and bacteria into the line.
"I get rashes from the sand," Quintana said. "And it plugs up my toilet so it won't flush."