How do you feel about the water in your city? Do you have trust in your local water district? If the answers to those questions make your blood boil, you’re not alone. I just found out my water district is adding groundwater to my tap. That would be pretty uneventful if it wasn’t for the partial nuclear meltdown that happened about three miles from my house in 1959. When you live close to a partial nuclear meltdown, avoiding dangerous chemicals inside your home is quite important. This is why I’m vigilant about avoiding contaminants like fire retardants, bisphenols, pesticides, phthalates, and other indirect additives coming from packaging and baking. These hormone-disrupting chemicals add up and contribute to a body burden that you have control over. And I’ve become such an expert over the years that I wrote the manual on how to protect your family from these same chemicals called Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!).
So when you are doing your best to avoid chemicals that would disrupt the hormones of your family, you get a bit peeved when you discover your private water company has been sketchy as hell. Have you discovered something sketchy about your private water company? Follow me as I take you through what I’ve discovered and what I’m doing about it. I’m sure this will give you some ideas on what you can do in your own city. I’m getting involved in local politics to bring attention to the health impacts of perchlorate and work for safer water. You’ve trusted Mamavation to cover topics like what does “safe” mean according to the Feds, how to test your children for pesticides, & how to strengthen your baby’s immune system, now join us as we explore what you can do if your private water company is sketchy.
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With Private Water Companies, Things Can Go South Very Quickly.
There are countless examples of private water companies putting the public in danger. (*ahem Flint & Pittsburgh*) And that’s because when you are dealing with a private water company there is less accountability in the system leaving residents at the mercy of shareholders instead of elected representatives. Private water companies don’t have a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of the residents it serves. Instead, they have a responsibility to turn a profit. This can cause a number of problems like refusing to do system upgrades, a lack of transparent records to the public, overcharging for services, and in the case of Simi Valley, safeguarding water systems from pollution. Nationwide Americans are overwhelming moving away from private water companies based on wanting more local control and wanting to avoid potential dangers like what happened in Flint. In the case of Simi Valley where I live, the City Council has expressed interest in looking into what it would take to condemn Golden State Water Company and turn it into a public system, which in my opinion, would make residents safer.
The case for taking over a private water company and turning it public has been a trend for some time. Food & Water Watch released a report on the differences between private and public water systems and how this is impacting Americans. Their findings are very telling about American confidence in private water districts:
- Publicly owned utilities served 87 percent of people that have piped water service.
- For-profit water companies own only about 10 percent of water systems, most of which serve small communities, like the middle of Simi Valley. (Why not consolidate so it’s all public?)
- From 2007 to 2014, the portion of people with water service from publicly owned systems increased from 83 percent to 87 percent.
- Over that period, the number of private systems dropped 7 percent (a loss of nearly 1,700 privately owned systems), while the number of people served by privately owned systems fell 18 percent (8 million people).
- Public water utilities are also taking over and consolidating private systems. (This is what Simi Valley is looking into.)
- On average, private for-profit utilities charged households 59 percent more than local governments charged for drinking water service — an extra $185 a year.
- The average government utility charged $315.56 for 60,000 gallons a year, while the average for-profit company charged $500.96 (59 percent more) for the same amount of water.
So there is definitely a trend of public utilities taking over private water companies. Would this work for your city? It depends. In the case of Simi Valley, where about 30% of residents have private water and the rest of the city is in a public system, this may make sense for the city to consider taking back local control. Why? Well, common sense, which leads me to my next point.
See No Evil. Hear No Evil. Test No Evil. Speak No Evil. Report No Evil.
You can live in the same city, and if your water is delivered to you by a private water company, vast differences in testing can be problematic to ascertain whether they are attempting to meet the health standard. All water districts, regardless if they are public or private, have to submit testing results to a state agency. In the case of Simi Valley, all records must be submitted to the California Water Board. Contaminants need to be below a certain threshold, however that threshold allows them to legally hide contamination amounts below that threshold. How is that possible? It’s all about what testing is used and how sensitive that testing is.
Water districts have the ability to utilize old technology or newer technology when assessing contamination inside water. In the case of testing for perchlorate, older technology from the 20th Century only allows you to test perchlorate at 4ppb, which means anything below that level will give the result of “non-detect.” But what does that mean? That means you can have contamination from 0-3.9999ppb and you’ll never know the exact amount. The health standard for perchlorate is 1ppb in California, so by using older technology, you wouldn’t be striving to meet that health standard because you never know where you actually are. Modern testing methods allow testing for perchlorate to 0.02ppb, which is incredibly sensitive and would also give you an accurate account of contamination inside the water. The price difference between tests are only $50, so deciding to use old vs. newer technology isn’t an issue of cost. It’s more of an issue of do you want to know. Technology from the 21st Century is so sensitive, it allows you to see teeny tiny levels equivalent to a drop inside an Olympic-sized pool, which is also the level hormone disruption happens to pregnant women and children.
As in the case of Simi Valley and Golden State Water Company, Golden State knows that groundwater is contaminated with perchlorate, a hormone-disrupting chemical dangerous in parts per billion, but they refuse to test to the level which will actually allow you to accurately gauge how much is inside the water. They only test to 4ppb. When the health standard is 1ppb and you have a partial nuclear meltdown in your backyard, I would argue that using sensitive testing is in the public’s best interest. If you don’t test, you’ll never know. Test no evil. See no evil. Report no evil. Public water districts that are striving to meet the health standards typically have more accountability to the people. Residents can demand more sensitive testing and elected officials will have to respond in turn.
Water Quality Can Differ from Private Water Company to Public Water Utility Even Within the Same City
Water quality from a public utility system to a private water company can be vastly different, even within the same city. Let’s take Simi Valley for example. In terms of how private Golden State Water Company differs from the Simi Valley’s public water system, perchlorate levels are vastly different.
Perchlorate Found in Groundwater
Perchlorate is a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to obesity, thyroid damage, a decreased uptake of iodine, etc. Contamination in the Simi Valley area of perchlorate either comes from the Rocketdyne partial nuclear meltdown OR from fertilizer used on citrus groves according to recent private report. Golden State Water Company has been using between 10-20% groundwater to supplement the water they receive and they have not been forthcoming with what they have discovered in the groundwater wells. The day I went down to their office to meet with them, afterward they sent out a letter to residents complaining about rumors and “misinformation.” The irony about that letter was a lack of information. They missed some important facts about perchlorate contamination and the season in which it’s prevalent. While their letter was trying to tell you “nothing to see here” this is what they omitted–when it rains in Simi Valley, the wells seem to have more perchlorate contamination. So they decided to give residents testing results from dry weather instead of wet weather that would have looked problematic. However, that information is public here and here. Oops! Here’s what Mamavation discovered very easily when looking into all the testing submitted to the State this year.
Niles Well: Testing done on April 3rd, 2018 resulted in 4.7ppb. Later when the rain stopped and things went dry, it tested on July 10th, 2018 at less than 4ppb. I guess they forgot to mention that part. (Let’s not forget the health standard for perchlorate is 1ppb)
Sycamore Well: Testing done on January 2nd, 2018 resulted in 4.8ppb and testing on April 3rd, 2018 resulted in 4.5ppb. Later when the rain stopped and things went dry, it was tested on July 10th, 2018 and the well tested under 4ppb. I guess they forgot to mention that part too. (Let’s not forget the health standard for perchlorate is 1ppb.)
No water district is perfect and there is no such thing as contaminate-free water, however, there are differences in the levels of contaminants you’ll find when you look into averages from 2010 to 2015 via Environmental Working Group’s Tapwater Database. It’s pretty clear that in the case of Simi Valley, the public utility is closer to the health standard than the private water company.
Chromium-6 (Hexavalent Chromium) averaged from 2010-2015
Golden State Water Company: 0.91 parts per billion (higher)
Simi Valley Public Water System: 0.09 parts per billion (lower)
Flouride levels averaged from 2010-2015
Golden State Water Company: 0.53 parts per billion (higher)
Simi Valley Public Water System: 0.18 parts per billion (lower)
Nitrate levels averaged from 2010-2015
Golden State Water Company: 1.77 parts per billion (higher)
Simi Valley Public Water System: 0.44 parts per billion (lower)
With just this little snapshot, It’s clear there are vast differences between the two water systems. When Golden State utilizes groundwater from wells in Simi Valley that are contaminated with hormone-disrupting chemicals, they end up delivering more contaminants to the residents they serve than the City of Simi Valley. And they end up having to treat the water a bit more harshly to get rid of those contaminants. Which water would you prefer to give your family? I think that choice is clear.
What You Can Do If Your Private Water Company is Sketchy
Pressuring a private water company is vastly different than pressuring a public utility. And that’s because a private company doesn’t answer to the residents. They answer to shareholders. If a private water company isn’t striving to meet the health standard, the options are a bit messier, potentially can require attorneys, and can take more time to fix. However, there are things you can start doing.
Meet with Your Private Water District
A went with a group of concerned moms to the Golden State Water District office to gather information about what they were doing and get an idea of who was in charge. We showed up to the meeting and there were two armed guards at the door to escort us inside. They were there special for us to ensure that we didn’t harm the staff. If this happens to you when you meet with your water district, I’m going to say they may not be receptive to your needs. They may be expecting a fight based on what they are unwilling to do for the public. At this meeting, we talked with them about our concerns using groundwater that had been contaminated with perchlorate and radioactive materials. They argued with us about the ethics of not being at the health standard. A regulator on the phone from the California Water Board told us he hopes they meet the health standard one day but the State is powerless to ensure they do that. But I still believe it’s important to meet with the people who are in charge of supplying you with water. Technically they don’t work for you as a public utility would, but it’s still a good idea to have that presence.
Take Your Issue to Local Elected Officials
After getting the runaround with Golden State, we decided to turn up the knob a bit. So we organized a group of concerned moms to show up at the next City Council meeting to testify. City Council meetings typically open up with comments from the public, so we made sure that most of them got up to speak and let the City Council know that they were very concerned with Golden State’s use of groundwater in our area. The outcome of that meeting was very positive. The City is looking into what it would take to condemn Golden State and take over, they are reaching out to UCLA to ask if they would do a cancer cluster study of our city, and they are involving more state agencies to oversee this process and bring more attention to it.
Because it’s an election year, making the groundwater a topic during campaign season is also very important. So we are gathering a list of which candidates are for or against the use of contaminated groundwater. Candidates that are against the use of groundwater will obviously get more love from our group of concerned moms.
Be Vocal About Your Issue in Social Media
Social media has completely changed the world in terms of how information is shared and that is no different here. When I was involved in the labeling of GMOs fight, most of the work I was involved in was all online. In terms of Simi Valley, several concerned citizens are taking it upon themselves to keep people within the city informed of the issue by posting updates in popular forums. I’m doing as much as I can here on Mamavation to keep people informed of the issues, and we are using social media to organize. I can’t tell you about all the plans we have, but just note there is more coming. Lots more.
Look Into Extreme Means–A City Can Condemn a Private Water District and Assume Control
One thing a city can do is condemn a private water company and take over the services to make it public. This can be a costly venture for a city and require a team of lawyers to maneuver, so it will need strong political will to accomplish, but it’s very possible. There is a trend of this happening all over the United States, starting in places like Los Angeles in the early 1900s. The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2006 Community Water System Survey found a 9% decrease in private ownership of water systems from 2000 to 2006, with the biggest drop, percentage-wise came from larger systems. This is good news for anyone living in a larger city.
The City of Ojai (north of Simi Valley) overwhelmingly passed a bond to allow a public utility to assume control over Golden State. Golden State sued to prevent the bond from getting on the ballot, which further angered residents, and when it was all said and done, they lost. The City of Claremont, however, was a different story. Claremont enacted eminent domain proceedings against Golden State and a judge ruled in favor of Golden State last year. So again this process is not easy and can go either way which is why political will is needed.
But whatever you decide to do, remember that you have a voice and that voice is important. Your family is important. So don’t give up, just get creative! Mamavation will keep you informed of what we are doing as it unfolds.