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Per KCRW, Southern Californians are facing new water restrictions that began June 1 due to extreme drought. However, the circumstances are particularly worse for unincorporated communities along the banks of the San Joaquin Valley, known as colonias where mostly Black and Latino families have lived for decades.
According to author David Bacon, these issues are rooted in racial inequity and environmental injustice. Bacon explains that many of these communities were established during the early 20th century, when Black Americans migrated from the South to California. But they faced exclusion in cities across the Central Valley, such as Fresno, Visalia, and Tulare. As a result, they lived in rural areas outside of those cities.
Black rural communities have been abandoned for years.
“You have people who were working the cotton as sharecroppers in the South, and who came up to California when cotton was a big crop in the valley here,” Bacon explains. “These are communities of exclusion. People who were not able to buy property. And as a result, the cities that excluded them did not provide any services. There was no water. There were no sewer services. So people had to find all these things for themselves.”
He explains that in searching for water, they only had enough money to dig shallow wells, which meant being exposed to water contaminated with pesticides that farmers used on crops. Per KCRW, water levels in the area also quickly dropped due to the over-pumping of water for field irrigation.
“On the one hand, part of the problem was the contamination of the water. And on the other hand, it was also the fact that increasingly, those wells were not able to supply the water needs of the people who live there.”
Rural communities also suffer from medical neglect.
According to the CDC, rural Americans are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, COPD and stroke compared with their counterparts in rural areas. Research published in JAMA last year found the mortality disparities between rural and large metropolitan areas grew significantly between 1999 and 2019.
People living in rural areas also usually have to travel further to access healthcare. Meanwhile, 19 rural hospitals closed in 2020 alone, with 181 shutting down since 2005.
According to KCRW, over the years, many communities have run entirely out of water for extended periods of time. Bacon references one year when residents in the Tombstone Territory in the San Joaquin Valley were relegated to using only bottled water.
Getting your water in those big five gallon bottles — that’s enough water, perhaps, to cook with. And it’s enough water to drink. But what about taking a shower? What about cleaning yourself and your children? Those were emergency measures that were taken, and they certainly highlighted and they dramatized the extreme crisis that’s been developing here. But certainly supplying these communities with bottled water was no answer to the water needs of those communities.”
Racism has systemically destroyed Black rural communities across America for over a century.
From Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Durham, North Carolina, many once Black utopias were gutted by outside white forces determined to reclaim or destroy the land our ancestors once lived on.
While Blacks fought against Jim Crow in the South, Black residents of Allensworth, California, lived in Nirvana. According to Travel Noire, the town grew quickly and thrived as Black residents built their own homes, schools and businesses, library, and a post office.
Most prevalent between 1912-1915, most of the land was dedicated to sugar, wheat, barley, and cotton crops, as well as poultry, which were goods many Black business owners used to supply neighboring towns along the railroad route.
Per Travel Noire, the Pacific Farming Company later decided they would cut off Allenworth’s irrigation water supply. Shortly after, Santa Fe Railroad officials built a new railroad stop in the neighboring town of Alpaugh – ultimately halting service to Allensworth for reported “low water levels.”
The move pulled the plug on the economic lifeline for many Black families who were forced to relocate. The area is now known as Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park.
Located about 250 miles south of San Francisco, the Historic Park stands today as a reminder of California’s first Black town that racism ultimately destroyed.
California announces water historic restrictions to millions.
More than 6 million Southern Californians are now placed under new drought rules in an unprecedented effort to conserve water.
The restrictions are a response to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s urgent call for a 35% reduction in water use following California’s driest-ever start to the year. MWD’s board has never before issued such severe cuts, but said they were left with little recourse after state officials slashed deliveries from the State Water Project to just 5%. Read more from The Los Angeles Times here.