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Committee wrestles with drinking water bill

A state senate bill could, if passed, let the State Water Resources Control Board control funds to help improve drinking water quality in Madera County and elsewhere.

Senate Bill 623 “Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund” is set for an appropriations committee hearing Monday, the latest in a series of efforts to ensure safe drinking water for California residents.

“Historically there’s been a water quality crisis in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Veronica Garibay, co-director of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, “and communities, especially with small public water systems, have been most vulnerable to multiple sources of contamination, ranging from nitrates to arsenic to manganese.”

Madera County has not been spared, with problems in all of the above and more. Still Meadows (Maintenance District 422) exceeds maximum contaminant levels for “gross alpha, uranium and arsenic,” according to the county, and faces a county Environmental Health Department order it must comply with by June 18, 2018. Parkwood (Maintenance District 19) has high enough levels of manganese in its drinking water to make it unpleasant, if not necessarily unhealthy, to consume.

Both are being pushed towards consolidation with other systems to improve water quality. The county plans to consolidate drinking water and system maintenance for Still Meadows with Hillview Water Company, and slow preparations are in progress to consolidate Parkwood with the city of Madera’s water system.

“The state has been taking small steps to make sure that at least those small systems that are close to larger systems do have safe drinking water” by tying their system into the greater neighborm, Garibay said.

State water board data maps of contaminants in drinking water show a lot of California exceeds maximum recommended levels, “especially in the Central Valley,” he said.

In early February, the State Water Board released a map showing the drinking water quality of California’s public water systems. Garibay noted, “What we do know based on the State Water Board’s analysis — whose responsible for regulating public water systems in the state of California — is that at least one million people in 300 communities don’t have safe drinking water today, even though the state, five years ago, affirmed a human right to water in California.”

Those 300 public water systems serve about 200,000 state residents, including 30 schools and daycares that tend to 12,000 children.

SB-623 would help the state water board manage a fund for “grants, loans, contracts or services to assist those without access to safe and affordable drinking water.” This wouldn’t just aid those on rural water systems, according to attorney Michael Claiborne, of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

“Two million people in the state are on private wells and I think that’s something that, especially in Madera County, needs to be highlighted,” he said. “Because without a statewide system to test and given the problems that public systems have had in Madera with arsenic and nitrate and uranium, I think that the only conclusion that you can draw is that some or a large majority of those private wells probably have issues too.”

Claiborne and Garibay hope area residents will push their political leaders to support SB-623 and other sound attempts to guarantee safe drinking water across the state. For information on doing so, visit

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