In Coachella Valley, poor people who are always in drought

The Desert Sun has been doing a great series on California’s drought, but this is surely the most important of the stories. While the rest of California worries about a dwindling supply, some poor residents of the palmy, leafy, lawny Coachella Valley, playground of Southern California wealth, don’t have a safe drinking supply at all, drought or not:

Carmen Vargas has been buying bottled drinking water for more than 20 years. Like cooking, cleaning and gardening, it’s a weekly ritual of family life on her patch of the California dream.

Harmful, naturally-occurring contaminants such as arsenic have made it impossible for Vargas and her family to drink the well water pumped to the mobile home park near the San Jose Community Center in Thermal.
The only alternative is costly and inconvenient.

So every week Vargas, 66, journeys 13 miles to Cardenas Market in Coachella or 21 miles to Costco Wholesale in La Quinta, lugging 24-packs of bottled water and 5-gallon jugs to her car and then home, where she stores the rations of clean water in the living room.

And it’s not just Coachella. Poor water quality plagues poor communities. If drought is not having enough clean, safe water to do the things you need, these people are always in drought. Read the story.

update: Interesting comment from Peter Gleick



  1. the article is talking about installing RO filters to help such people out, that is a great improvement if the people will maintain the units. of course, for the poor, the biggest improvement would be to make the filters more durable and longer lasting.

  2. Songbird – That’s an excellent point. One of my University of New Mexico colleagues looked at this issue in a rural New Mexico community and found that post-installation maintenance was the weak link.

  3. It should be noted that there are a number of places in the west with ground water that is unsafe. I recall seeing restrooms in Big Bend Park with big signs saying water is not potable do not drink. As other comments imply such places also exist in NM and Az at least.

  4. there are many places where groundwater is not the best. all around us most people have salt water from their wells, we just happen to sit in the middle of the local drainage drift. our water has some iron, but is otherwise good. each location can have different problems, water is an amazing thing, they don’t call it the universal solvent for nothin…

    in _The Big Thirst_ there is a wonderful description of how they make ultrapure water to make seminconductors. if you drink it it can cause harm because it has no minerals and your body begins to pull them from your bones/tissues to compensate… i would not be surprised if RO water doesn’t do the same, but i’m not going to get into that line of research today…

    as for the original article it does say that one of the organizations is keeping track of maintenance and trying to help people keep on top of things, but in my experience such efforts end up failing as soon as easy funding falls off.

    glad to see some rain for CA and CO today. watching GEOS water vapor trail from the Pacific is interesting at times… yes, i have too much time at times… 🙂

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