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

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Saturday, October 1, 2022
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Residents in East Palo Alto say they have to deal with dirty tap water multiple times a year, and it is taking a toll on their health and finances.

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Running water that burns eyes, fills rooms with a strong odor and sometimes comes out brown.

That's what hundreds of residents in East Palo Alto say they have been living with - they say the quality of the water is taking a toll on their health and finances.

Now a newly published report is hoping to create change.

East Palo Alto resident Sonia Escobar shared video she says is of brown water filling her sink and bath tub, explaining when it happens.

"When the pipes are being cleaned out, we usually don't get a notice when they do," Escobar said, "Whenever we turn on the water and it's brown we just have to wait until, let the water run until it's clean again."

Escobar says it happens about twice a year.

RELATED: Report: 74 California water systems contaminated, 7.5 million potentially exposed to toxic chemicals

The discolored water, just part of the complaints local organization Nuestra Casa collected in a survey that was just published this week.

It was part of a larger report done between 2017 and 2021 that aims to get grant money to improve water infrastructure in underserved communities.

It found 715 East Palo Alto residents saying that they're concerned about their water quality and aging water infrastructure.

"Whenever I shower, my eyes burn, I have a lot of hair loss," Escobar said, "Now I don't cook with the water, we buy water bottles to drink and use for cooking."

The survey found that more than 75% of respondents buy bottled water for cooking and drinking and 55% did not feel their drinking water is safe.

Nuestra Casa says the survey opened up an important opportunity for residents to have their voices heard.

RELATED: Drinking California tap water over lifetime could increase cancer risk, study says

"The families are taking the initiative," said Vicky Avila Medrano, program director at Nuestra Casa, "How they can advocate for themselves, because it's important to know what the next steps are."

The survey has caught the attention of local leaders, the City of East Palo Alto's city manager sent ABC7 a report that's set to go before their city council on Tuesday.

It explains that the city contracts a water operator, Veolia, who oversees quality standards.

The actual water received comes from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The report says the water has to pass through an old water system owned by the city and also aged pipes owned by the residents which may lead the water to become discolored.

They say any water issues can be reported by residents and will be investigated.

RELATED: SoCal water district installing flow restrictors in homes of customers who use too much water

San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa says federal and local governments have to step up.

"We need to allocate funding," Canepa said of what he hopes happen at the county level, "So that they can develop a comprehensive plan to fix this aging, aging infrastructure."

On Tuesday, the city council will also be asked to approve $8.5 million for a new city water system master plan.

In response to the survey, the city says it's planning a public meeting around the water system on Nov. 17.

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