Disadvantaged communities are the areas throughout California that are affected most by economic, health and environmental burdens. These burdens include poverty, high unemployment, increased risk of asthma and heart disease and often limited access to safe and clean drinking water.
The California Department of Water Resources defines a disadvantaged community as one with an annual median household income that is less than 80 percent of the statewide annual figure. (California’s median household income in 2016 was $67,739, according to the state Department of Finance).
Census-designated areas with an annual income of less than 60 percent of the statewide annual income are considered severely disadvantaged communities.
Many disadvantaged communities are affected by unsafe source water for cooking, drinking and bathing. Furthermore, they are subject to lost water supplies from wells running dry, especially during drought when groundwater is relied on more heavily and the water table drops.
While disadvantaged communities are spread across California, they are concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley. During the 2012-2016 drought, the unincorporated community of East Porterville in Tulare County was especially affected by lack of water. The community of about 7,500 people, many of whom are low-income Latinos, relied on groundwater from private wells. As many as 300 wells went dry during the summer of 2014 and other wells in the area have tested positive for nitrates. By early 2018, a partnership of state and local agencies had connected 755 homes in the community to the city of Porterville’s municipal water system.
The plight of disadvantaged communities and their struggle for clean water is the subject of ongoing efforts to help remedy the problem.
In 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Human Right to Water law, which declared it the policy of the state that every human being has the right to clean, affordable and accessible water for human consumption, cooking and sanitary purposes.
In 2018, two legislative efforts to fund safe drinking water projects failed. The first was a proposal by the Brown administration to add a 95-cent monthly fee on home water bills as well as taxes on businesses of up to $10 per month to help generate about $110 million annually to address the problem of access to safe drinking water.
The second effort for a voluntary water tax also failed, though proponents of the concept vowed to make it a priority in 2019.