Yesterday we drove out to the small towns of Cutler and Orosi, where mostly farm workers (working grapes, olives, oranges, pomegranates and more) live.
Besides being exposed to toxic pesticides in the fields, workers are increasingly frustrated by their water situation. What water situation?
Well, all the clean water that comes into the valley via aqueducts and canals gets used on fields covered in pesticides and chemical nitrogen fertilizers. It then seeps into the groundwater, which is the only source of drinking and cooking water for many of these small towns, which lack civic infrastructure or political voice in the area. Also a major part of the problem are the mega-dairies in the area, which concentrate high amounts of toxic manure (well, toxic mainly because it is in such concentrations) in pools, "poo soup" as we call them. This also seeps into the water.
So these communities, mostly poor and Latino, must pay a local water district up to $52 a month for water they cannot safely use, and must travel (sometimes miles) to buy bottled water to drink, adding to their economic burden. Their children get rashes, babies are born blue-faced and die, and cancers are well known to result from high nitrate ingestion.
There is much more to this story, which you can learn more about from the good folks over at Community Water Center.
To me, this is the ultimate irony of the food system we rely on: the folks who work the land don't have access to a basic human right like water, while the large acreage mega-farms they work at receive a majority of the clean fresh water in the state (something like 80%), and then polluted with their toxic practices.