Record heat, historic wildfire season, unprecedented pandemic, job loss and utility bills threaten the health of Ivanhoe residents
In our last issues, the team at Ivanhoe Sol has begun to examine some of the ways that climate change has begun to impact the San Joaquin Valley and Ivanhoe. Specifically, we have discussed record heat projections for California and discussed some of various ways climate change will affect the public health of Ivanhoe. One the eve of the 2020 presidential election we are experiencing record-breaking climate impacts that are reaching further into our lives in ways we can no longer ignore.
Climate Change Continues to Impact Ivanhoe
As autumn officially begins in Ivanhoe, the last two months have been recorded as some of the hottest in world history.
While the San Joaquin Valley has surpassed its total record for days over 100 degrees, cities like Los Angeles have experienced record-breaking heat most recently at 121 degrees.
Closer to home, the National Weather Station based in Hanford, Calif. has also shared that average temperatures in the Valley are nearly 15 degrees warmer than average for September.
The National Weather Station also issued a “very high heat risk” for the San Joaquin Valley. For the Ivanhoe area, the risk is at a Level of 3 out of 4, meaning “high risk for much of the population, especially those who are heat sensitive and those without effective cooling and/or adequate hydration.”
Many areas within an hour of Ivanhoe like Fresno, Three Rivers, and Porterville were listed as Level 4 risk meaning “very high risk for the entire population due to long duration heat, with little to no relief overnight.” Fresno is also experiencing its second hottest summer ever recorded while Bakersfield is experiencing its fourth hottest recorded summer.
The record heatwave has also created perfect conditions for wildfires throughout the entire state while forcing community members to deal with the day-to-day struggles of staying safe and cool. Less than one month ago, California was experiencing a heat wave while nearly four hundred forest fires were burning at once.
High Utility Bills for Ivanhoe Residents
The combination of record heat waves and sheltering at home due to the pandemic and wildfires have led to high utility bills for every Ivanhoe resident our team interviewed for this article. In addition to the warm temperatures, residents felt that sheltering at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to their increased utility bill.
Some residents have reported an over 20% increase in utility bills compared to August of last year. One bill for a family of four was over three hundred dollars.
Our interviewees identified several activities associated with sheltering at home like charging laptops, and keeping lights or air conditioning running all day, as new unavoidable challenges around managing energy use.
A parent of three school-aged children simply explained the problem – “The more you use it, the higher the bill will come out.” Even knowing this, the same community member commented, “I don’t want to die of heat in my home.”
While there are many options to lessen the impact, many people continue to rely on electrification to keep cool during the summer. Residents are often faced with limited options for managing their electricity usage and are forced to continue energy usage as a means of survival.
This has placed some residents in difficult financial situations. Some residents also identified being several months behind utility payments due to lost income caused by the pandemic.
Since Ivanhoe is served by Southern California Edison, there are some programs available to offer some potential relief. Interested residents can contact 1-800-798-5723 to learn more about the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) and Family Electric Rate Assistance (FERA) programs. For additional information on the Low Income Rate Assistance program, Ivanhoe residents can call 1-800-447-6620.
There are however some Tulare County communities that are converting their energy sources to support energy affordability. Communities like Allensworth, Alpaugh, Seville, Ducor and West Goshen are recipients of funds from the California Public Utilities Commission in a new program designed to support a more modern energy network. Since those communities were relying on expensive natural gas or propane, this program will explore methods to transition the communities to renewable solar energy.
Ivanhoe Residents Seek Relief From Heat
Regardless of background, extreme heat poses various health impacts to children and elders in the community. For those who must remain in their homes, regulating the heat is an important survival strategy.
While other communities are receiving large investments, others continue to explore ways to keep individual homes cool and energy bills more affordable.
The community of Ivanhoe has had to rely on several creative methods to stay healthy and cool.
For example, one Ivanhoe resident commented, “It’s hard to be outside and cool down because of the wildfires, we just stay inside, we go to Target, Walmart, and Starbucks. It’s not necessary to go but we know it will be cooler indoors in Visalia.”
Maria Campos-Gonzalez, who is a parent, commented that, “When it gets fresher outside we play with water balloons to get activity for kids.” She noted that it can be difficult to keep them occupied indoors since this year the children have had a significant amount of change in their lives due to the pandemic and weather conditions.
Preventing heat from entering the house was another concern that arose from the Ivanhoe Sol’s interviews. One resident shared, “We put sheets over the windows. The sun hits our living room and kitchen directly and I put blankets over the window, other than that you can’t do much else”. Someone else commented “normally for me and my family we stay inside the house, around 7 or 7:30 we go outside, but we stay inside the most possible. We have a pool but it’s so hot that my kids can’t use it.”
Since Ivanhoe is a community with older homes, there are several that rely on swamp coolers as their primary method of temperature control. Since they rely on water evaporation, during heatwaves the water vapor is usually as warm as the outside temperature and as a result is less effective than centralized air conditioning. Jesse Arrellano,a local community activist, said, “I am fortunate that we have air in the home but I know there are a lot of families with swamp coolers. With swamp coolers I’ve felt suffocated and sticky.”
Wildfires and Heat Cause Complications
In addition to the heat stress, the San Joaquin Valley is experiencing another historic trend in air pollution that turned the sun visibly red. This explosion in air quality contamination came with various health risks that have further caused Ivanhoe residents to find shelter indoors.
During the peak of the wildfires in late August, the San Joaquin Valley had experienced some of the worst air in the world. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District announced that every person should avoid any outdoor activity if possible.
According to the Air Pollution Control District, wildfire smoke can trigger asthma attacks, aggravate chronic bronchitis, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The Air District makes a clear note to address the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the district stated, “Those with existing respiratory conditions, including COVID-19, young children and the elderly, are especially susceptible to the health effects from this form of pollution. Anyone experiencing poor air quality due to wildfire smoke should move indoors, to a filtered, air-conditioned environment with windows closed. The common cloth and paper masks individuals are wearing due to COVID-19 concerns may not protect them from wildfire smoke.”
All residents we interviewed also cited difficulty managing exposure to the smoke. Maria Campos Gonzalez has noticed a change with her son’s health. She says, “my son has allergies and I think he has asthma. On these days he has been sicker than usual.”
Jesse Arrellano who works with Cutler-Orosi School District conducts at-home check-ups. He says, “we are going to homes to students who don’t have computers and serving them. Just from getting out of the car, even if I have the mask I feel the difference and it affects my asthma, then I think about people who are workers working harder outside. If I am struggling just getting out of a car for 10 minutes, I imagine how people are working outside.”
While students are spending more time indoors, there have been some occasions where school staff throughout Visalia Unified School District were outdoors for prolonged periods. Esmeralda Garcia, an employee with Golden West Middle School says she was tasked with working outside to support the transition back to school.
Due to the at-home nature of schooling, the school staff was distributing books and other school materials to students. Due to the warm temperature, the times for pick up hours were moved from 8 am to 6:45am to keep parents and staff out of the hot sun. The district was said to provide masks for safety during the pandemic.
Many farmworkers in the community of Ivanhoe also continued to work outdoors as “essential workers.”
Climate Change Continues To Disrupt The San Joaquin Valley
While much wildfire smoke has drifted in from other parts of the state, Wildfires have also sparked closer to home. Most recently, the Creek Fire in Fresno County erupted to more than 70,000 acres in two days. This fire resulted in a mandatory evacuation of every resident in the mountainside and trapped hundreds at Shaver Lake. People were told to dive in the water for safety if needed.
This uncontrolled fire is bound to impact the air quality in Ivanhoe and continue to exacerbate some of pre-existing public health issues in the community. Additionally, the current warm trend has resulted in ideal fire weather in the foothills immediately east of Ivanhoe. This means that there is currently high potential for wildfires on the same scale as other fires throughout the state to occur in Tulare County.
We urge every Ivanhoe resident to stay as safe as possible as the pandemic and wildfire season continues. If anything, this has shown us that without long-term solutions to our changing climate, rural communities are more likely to experience cumulative impacts of different environmental stressors.
With this in mind, the Ivanhoe Sol’s next issue will continue on the theme of climate change with a focus on local representatives and the upcoming electoral cycle.
For any questions or suggestions for our climate change coverage please reach out to [email protected]