Iris Stewart-Frey received $49,999 from the California Environmental Protection Agency
Iris Stewart-Frey (Santa Clara University. Environmental Justice and the Common Good Initiative) and the California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) will partner to better understand and work to remove barriers disadvantaged communities face to access safe drinking water. We will focus on communities dependent on household wells or small water systems and threats to their water supplies by nitrate contamination and drought conditions. This work is timely as Early Action Plans are being developed by the Valley Water Collaborative, responsible for implementing the Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability initiative's (CV-SALTS) Nitrate Control Program's (NCP), a water quality regulatory program aimed at reducing nitrate levels in groundwater and providing emergency replacement drinking water for impacted residents, and as extreme drought conditions currently exist in the San Joaquin Valley and are likely to become more frequent under climate change.
To this end, we will (a) use spatial analysis to identify disadvantaged communities not connected to larger water systems and contamination risk from nitrate, (b) develop and execute a survey and focus groups through which we seek to understand communities experiences with water access, water quality (especially nitrate), drought impacts, and the CV-Salts program's outreach effectiveness, (c) develop and distribute educational materials on safe water access and rights and opportunities under the CV-Salts program, and c) analyze the results from our surveys and focus groups to produce a report and support advocacy by CRLA for safe water access in disadvantaged communities navigating nitrate groundwater contamination and drought. The survey and focus groups will evaluate resident NCP awareness, resident experiences interacting with the NCP, resident experiences and understanding of their well water quality, and whether the 2021 drought affected water supplies from their wells. The survey will also include demographic data to assess disparities among populations accessing NCP information and services, and understand which communities are most impacted by contaminated water systems and climate change. Survey efforts will include opportunities to provide educational materials about the health impacts of nitrates, NCP services, well testing best practices, proper filtration techniques, and well maintenance.The report will be presented to the Central Valley Water Board and the Valley Water Collaborative to inform outreach efforts going forward. As drought is currently not included in the early action plan of the Valley Water Collaborative, the report will further illuminate the impact of the 2021 drought and climate change on disadvantaged unincorporated communities to inform future climate-resilient policy strategies.