How do we detoxify California's poison tap water? More democracy

The public water boards in the southern San Joaquin Valley are only nominally public. Of 565 water board seats in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties, 491 — a stunning 87% — went uncontested in elections over the last four years, according to the Visalia-based Community Water Center. Candidates ran unopposed so often that three-quarters of the boards didn’t even bother to hold elections.

These boards are the closest thing to local government in more than 300 unincorporated communities in the water-scarce San Joaquin Valley. They manage delivery of drinking water to residents and water to farms and dairies. They fund investments in pumps and pipes, set water rates and collect fees, and in some cases manage groundwater consumption.

Most pertinently, they are responsible for water quality in agricultural communities where chemical runoff and naturally occurring contaminants such as arsenic have poisoned wells. As a result, a million or more Californians, most of them living in poor farmworker communities, can’t safely drink the water that comes out of their taps.

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