Leadership of controversial California water program shifts

Posted by Mark Grossi on June 16, 2014 

Maria Elena Avila Orozco Martinez looks at a glass of water from her tap. She and her family in Tulare County don't use water straight from the tap, but use filtered water from another tap.

JOHN WALKER — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

San Joaquin Valley towns appear to be finished with the California Department of Public Health, which many have blamed for funding delays that have left residents with bad drinking water for years.

Gov. Jerry Brown's new budget, which cleared the Legislature, moves the state's Drinking Water Program from Public Health to the State Water Resources Control Board. The move will be made July 1, state leaders said.

The program holds the purse strings for funding to correct drinking water problems in small communities.

The Bee's 2011 investigation of Valley drinking water problems revealed towns such as Seville in Tulare County and Lanare in Fresno County faced a maze of technicalities to get funding.

Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, last year introduced Assembly Bill 145 that would have taken the program away from the California Department of Public Health.

The bill would have moved the program to the state board, but it died quietly in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Meanwhile, both Seville and Lanare have been caught in the funding process, adding years to their frustrating wait to clean up their dirty drinking water.

Many towns have problems with nitrates, a chemical contamination from fertilizer, septic systems, dairy waste and decaying plants. Others have problems with natural contaminants such as arsenic.

Three years ago, the United Nations came to Seville, a town of 480, as part of a worldwide tour of communities where drinking water is chronically unsafe. The U.N. investigator's tour included communities in Costa Rica, Slovenia, Uruguay and Namibia. 

The U.N. investigator recommended that California move with more urgency to address the problems, and the state has funded some projects. 

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