Disadvantaged communities hit hardest by drought

California

DAVIS, Calif. (KRON) – During drought emergencies, like what we are facing now, a UC Davis professor says socio-economically disadvantaged communities are hit the hardest.

“There are significant disparities that get worse in a drought, and those who have the worst drinking water, get even worse drinking water when the systems are under stress,” associate professor Jonathan London said. 

When you look around the Bay Area and up and down the state, Jonathan London says mostly rural but also urban communities are bearing the brunt of that stress.

“These are places, let’s say, where the residents just don’t have enough income — enough wealth to be able to pay for additional water bonds, and other kinds of surcharges, and so those are the places, you know, that year-round are at-risk, but in a drought, get this additional layer of risk,” London said. 

London points to some communities in the Livermore Valley and parts of Contra Costa County, where residents rely on well systems.

London is an associate professor at the Center for Regional Change in the Department of Human Ecology at UC Davis.

He specializes in environmental justice.

London is concerned about neighborhoods relying on shallow wells for drinking water because they do not have the resources to dig further into the ground, rather than those where the wells are deeper and are exposed to less contamination.

“There could be biological contamination, some bacteria. And, that kind of thing you can boil to get safe water. But other things like nitrates, which is often from agriculture from cow manure or fertilizer runoff, and have a lot of major health problems, things like arsenic that leaches out from rocks in the underlying soils and bedrock. Those kinds of things, you can’t boil. They’re just in the water, and they take massive investments to clean. They really need water treatment plants to take care of that,” London said. 

London says Governor Gavin Newsom’s office has made $1.3 billion available in the budget to make long-term improvements to water systems.

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