New­som comes to Stanis­laus County to talk about wa­ter

The Modesto Bee - - Front Page - BY ERIN TRACY [email protected]­

A day af­ter propos­ing a tax on drink­ing wa­ter, Gov. Gavin New­som took a “sur­prise” road trip to meet with Stanis­laus County res­i­dents in a com­mu­nity known for hav­ing un­safe wells.

New­som and his cab­i­net made their first stop at the Mon­terey Park Tract in Ceres, where he had a round­table dis­cus­sion with peo­ple who for years had to use bot­tled wa­ter for drink­ing and cook­ing be­cause their com­mu­nity’s two wells were long-con­tam­i­nated with ni­trates and ar­senic.

New­som said he’s com­mit­ted to help­ing com­mu­ni­ties around the state find clean sources of wa­ter. A McClatchy in­ves­ti­ga­tion last year found that 360,000 Cal­i­for­ni­ans, most of whom live in the San Joaquin Val­ley and Mo­jave Desert, are served with drink­ing wa­ter that does not meet state safety stan­dards for tox­ins.

“It’s only day five or six of the ad­min­is­tra­tion but, look, the is­sue of safe drink­ing wa­ter, af­ford­able drink­ing wa­ter, is top of mind,” New­som said. “I made that a point in yes­ter­day’s bud­get. I made a point to em­pha­size that it’s a dis­grace that in a state as wealthy and re­source­ful as ours that a mil­lion-plus peo­ple don’t have ac­cess to safe, clean drink­ing wa­ter.”

New­som did not an­nounce his trip to Stanis­laus County. He called it a “sur­prise trip” on Twit­ter, where he wrote that he wanted the mem­bers of his cab­i­net to hear “di­rectly from folks who lack af­ford­able, clean wa­ter.”

While say­ing that he didn’t want to “over­promise” to de­liver clean wa­ter, New­som pointed out that his bud­get pro­posal, is­sued Thurs­day, in­cludes sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment.

“I put $193 mil­lion in the bud­get yes­ter­day, ad­di­tional money, in this space,” he said.

The bud­get pro­posal he re­leased Thurs­day in­cludes about $190 mil­lion for safe drink­ing wa­ter projects. It also asks law­mak­ers to im­ple­ment some kind of fee that would pay for fu­ture work. Last year, law­mak­ers con­sid­ered a fee of 95 cents a month that would have pro­vided about $110 mil­lion a year for drink­ing wa­ter projects. The ef­fort failed, but New­som in­di­cated he wants to re­vive it.

“We’re hop­ing to get that $130 mil­lion fee an­nu­al­ized, which will then sig­nif­i­cantly help,” he said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

The res­i­dents he met Fri­day ben­e­fited from a 2016 project that con­nected their com­mu­nity of 200 to the city of Ceres wa­ter sys­tem.

Jessi Sny­der, com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment man­ager for Self-Help En­ter­prises, which helped the com­mu­nity se­cure fund­ing for the project, was at the meet­ing with New­som on Fri­day.

She said even two years af­ter the wa­ter­line con­nect­ing the com­mu­nity with Ceres was com­pleted, some res­i­dents still are skep­ti­cal of their drink­ing wa­ter.

That skep­ti­cism was com­pounded Thurs­day when res­i­dents learned the wa­ter from Ceres tested pos­i­tive for the can­cer-caus­ing chem­i­cal for 1,2,3 - TCP. The chem­i­cal has likely been in the wa­ter sys­tems of cities through­out the San Joaquin Val­ley for years; state test­ing re­quire­ments changed in 2018. Cus­tomers in Ceres, which in­clude the Mon­terey Tract sub­di­vi­sion, were no­ti­fied af­ter the first round of new tests found the chem­i­cal.

TCP is a chem­i­cal that in the past was used in soil fu­mi­gants mostly in the Cen­tral San Joaquin Val­ley, ac­cord­ing to the State Wa­ter Re­sources Con­trol Board.

Fran­cisco Diaz, Mon­terey Park Tract Com­mu­nity Ser­vices Dis­trict Board Pres­i­dent, said he was no­ti­fied by the county Thurs­day that Ceres’ wa­ter tested pos­i­tive for the chem­i­cal but that the lev­els are well be­low what is con­sid­ered un­safe.

He said he was re­quired to no­tify res­i­dents but that the wa­ter is still safe to drink.

Af­ter his dis­cus­sion in Ceres, New­som headed to Grayson School in west Stanis­laus County.

There, he met with com­mu­nity mem­bers in a ses­sion that was closed to me­dia.

New­som said his main goal with Fri­day’s vis­its was to lis­ten.

“I want to un­der­stand the mag­ni­tude of what you’ve been strug­gling with for years,” he said. And, he said, he wanted his cab­i­net to un­der­stand as well.

The trip was a sur­prise to them, as well; they were ex­pect­ing a staff meet­ing to­day.

“They didn’t know they were com­ing,” New­som said. “I threw them on a bus and said, ‘Guess where we’re go­ing?’ ”

ANDY AL­FARO aal­[email protected]­

Gov. Gavin New­som vis­ited Mon­terey Tract in Ceres on Fri­day to talk with res­i­dents about get­ting safe and af­ford­able drink­ing wa­ter.

JOAN BAR­NETT LEE [email protected]­

Gov. Gavin New­som gives a thumbs-up as he leaves Grayson Char­ter School in West­ley on Fri­day af­ter a visit there.

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