U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz and officials from the Coachella Valley Water District and the local nonprofit Pueblo Unido gathered in Mecca on Friday to announce $2.7 million in federal funding to improve access to clean drinking water in the area.
The funding is part of an appropriations package for fiscal 2022 signed into law by President Joe Biden for California’s 36th District, which encompasses much of the Coachella Valley.
While the package totals $10 million, $2.7 million is expected to fund the construction of a new water transmission line that would consolidate either nine water systems along Airport Boulevard in Thermal or three water systems along Avenue 66 in Mecca, according to CVWD Board Vice President Castulo Estrada.
Current water systems in those areas are made up of mostly water wells that fail to remove naturally occurring arsenic in the water, making it unsafe for consumption.
In a press conference held in front of Huertas Mobile Home Park, one of the affected sites near Avenue 66, Estrada said CVWD had identified over 80 such water systems scattered throughout the east valley and hoped to consolidate them with “about 42 projects,” with a master plan that will require additional state and federal funding.
“When we worked on these master plans back in 2018, we came up with some rough projections on the water side. We’re calculating that we need at least $100 million to consolidate existing systems, and about the same amount of money on the sewer side. It gives you a sense of the tremendous amount of infrastructure that is required to serve these communities and the challenge that we have in front of us,” Estrada said
He thanked Ruiz for helping secure the $2.7 million for one of the projects and emphasized the past $7 million in state funding secured by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, also for infrastructure projects along Avenue 66.
The announcement of new funding came on the heels of the Environmental Protection Agency’s emergency orders last week to four mobile home park water systems in Thermal to comply with federal drinking water safety requirements.
After addressing the findings, Ruiz said, “I’ve called on (the EPA) to do a comprehensive testing of all the different mobile home parks, on and off tribal land, and to find out just how pervasive this issue is. The facts are that this is an environmental injustice, and we cannot allow it to continue.”
In December, the EPA had also issued three emergency orders to privately owned and operated mobile home parks on the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians’ reservation near Thermal. The agency requested that the owners of Mora Mobile Home Park, Valladares Mobile Home Park and Toledo Mobile Home Park comply with federal drinking water requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The orders were also tied to the arsenic levels in residents’ drinking water.
Funding in the appropriation package for the 36th District will also go toward infrastructure and construction projects in the cities of Banning, Beaumont and Blythe, the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition and health clinics including Loma Linda University Health Center, Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo and Palo Verde Hospital District.
Eliana Perez covers the eastern Coachella Valley. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @ElianaPress.