Tooleville is center of California water crisis

Documentary titled The Great Divide: California’s Water Crisis will be screened and discussed Jan. 25 in Exeter

The Sun-Gazette

EXETER – The people of Tooleville have been forced to use bottled water for over 12 years because the water piped into their homes is contaminated and dangerous. They are worried about their health and the long-term impact of tainted water on their children.

The dusty community, in the shadow of the great Sierra, is a tiny hamlet of homes in Tulare County, a part of the vast San Joaquin Valley. It is just across the tracks and through an orange grove, about a mile, from the pretty, larger town of Exeter, where the water is safe to drink. The people of Tooleville have been asking Exeter to share its water by consolidating systems. And while Tooleville residents would pay a monthly water bill to Exeter, the city is struggling to find ways to repair its own aging water system to maintain water pressure for its 11,000 residents.

The Great Divide: California’s Water Crisis is a short film documenting the story of Tooleville’s struggle for clean, safe, affordable drinking water and Exeter’s inability to help them. The film will be shown at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25 at FoodLink for Tulare County, 611 2nd St. in Exeter. The film is being sponsored by filmmakers Casey Beck and Mary Cardaras of Bummer Lamb Pictures. Doors open at 5 p.m.

This story is just the tip of the iceberg. Some 300 other small communities in the San Joaquin Valley are faced with the very same issue, all while safe, clean, affordable drinking water is a human right in California. In 2018, a total of 2,752 violations of the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations were incurred by public water systems in California, according to the annual compliance report issued by the State Water Resources Control Board. More than 90% of violations were incurred by community water systems (CWS) that serve fewer than 500 service connections such as the Tooleville Nonprofit Mutual Water System, schools and businesses, or campgrounds and rest stops.

The two most prevalent contaminants found in California drinking water are nitrates and arsenic. Nitrite changes the normal form of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body, into a form called methemoglobin that cannot carry oxygen. At high enough concentrations nitrate can result in a temporary blood disorder in infants called “blue baby syndrome.” In severe, untreated cases, brain damage and eventually death can result from suffocation due to lack of oxygen, according to the National Institute for Health. Drinking water with high levels of arsenic can cause diabetes, cancer, as well as heart, lung, liver, immune, nervous or reproductive system disorders. Of the 387 MCL violations for nitrates in the state, 85% occurred in Valley counties and one third were found in Tulare County.

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