'Is it drinkable?': Concerns continue over quality of tap water in East Palo Alto

Thursday, September 28, 2023
EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- East Palo Alto residents are continuing to question the quality of their water. On Thursday, the nonprofit organization Nuestra Casa held a community event to help connect residents directly affected.

Resident Toby Goldberg said there are still issues present.

"There have been a few incidents where water got cutoff temporarily, I'm also concerned about water quality - I don't drink the water directly from our tap, I won't drink it unless it's filtered," Goldberg said.

Leticia Martinez has lived in East Palo Alto for 30 years. She said her water looks clear and seems fine, but she continues to buy bottled water.

"I want to know if our water is actually good that is my question - is it drinkable?" Martinez said.

A year ago, video of brown, odorous water was taken by a resident who said that's what it looked like when pipes were getting cleaned.

VIDEO: East Palo Alto residents say 'brown' tap water is taking toll on their health, finances
East Palo Alto residents concerned with 'brown' tap water

Nuestra Casa collected a survey that was part of a larger report where hundreds of residents said they were concerned about the quality and aging water infrastructure.

Mayor Lisa Gauthier says that water study brought things to their attention they might've overlooked.

Months later, the city says they're continuing to work on it.

"I'm proud to say that we just received $2 million resources from Assemblymember Papan's office and what that will help us do is bridge the gap on a water project that's really important going from city hall to Donahoe, that will deliver cleaner water. We know infrastructure is an issue so being able to do that is going to be impactful," Gauthier said.

Gauthier still wants to know if people are buying bottled water.

"As an elected official, I don't know what's going on in everybody's home. So to have a system or a process that allows me to hear from individuals is important. So we need to continue to have the discussion - not shy away from it," Gauthier said.

There are three separate water companies that serve East Palo Alto and each company receives water from different sources.

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Laura Feinstein was one of the panelists and works for the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association.

"So there's two small providers in East Palo Alto that just serve part of the community and they have had troubles at times meeting what's called the taste and odor standards for safe drinking water. So that means that the water is safe to drink it won't harm your health, but it does mean often it looks brown or it smells bad and of course people don't want to drink brown water or water that smells bad," Feinstein said.

She added if pipes are old or have lead then the water would not be safe.

Some residents want to know what comes next.

"If that's writing letters to local politicians, if it's changing the water source that we use every day - but just feel a little more empowered rather than just passively accepting whatever comes into our pipes," Goldberg said.

The mayor said their Water System Master Plan needs more money and resources to fix the infrastructure but acknowledged this issue is taking too long.

"If you think about water and health equity, water is a right and people need to be healthy and have clean water coming from their pipes. This is an issue that I agree has been ongoing, and we have to figure out a way to get it fixed," Gauthier said.

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