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According to KCRW, Southern Californians are facing new water restrictions that began June 1 due to extreme drought. However, circumstances are especially worse for unincorporated communities along the shores 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 inequality and environmental injustice. Bacon explains that many of these communities were established in the early 20th century, when black Americans migrated from the South to California. But they faced exclusion in towns in the Central Valley, such as Fresno, Visalia and Tulare. As a result, they lived in rural areas outside of these towns.
Black rural communities have been abandoned for years.
“You have people who worked cotton as sharecroppers in the South who came to California when cotton was a big crop in the valley here,” Bacon says. “These are communities of exclusion. People who couldn’t buy a property. And suddenly, the cities that excluded them offered no service. There was no water. There was no sewer service. So people had to find all these things for themselves.
He explains that while 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. According to KCRW, water levels in the area have also dropped rapidly due to excessive pumping of water for irrigating fields.
“On the one hand, part of the problem was water contamination. And on the other hand, it was also the fact that more and more, these wells were not able to meet 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, cancers, unintentional injuries, COPD and strokes than their rural counterparts. Research published in JAMA last year, mortality disparities between rural areas and major metropolitan areas increased significantly between 1999 and 2019.
Older rural residents were more likely to forgo medical care due to cost, which was even more prevalent among black and Hispanic adults according to Mobi Health News.
People living in rural areas also typically have to travel further to access health care. Meanwhile, 19 rural hospitals closed in 2020 alone, including 181 since 2005.
According to KCRW, over the years many communities have gone completely without water for long periods of time. Bacon is referring to a year when residents of Tombstone Territory in the San Joaquin Valley were relegated to using only bottled water.
Getting your water in those big five gallon bottles – that might be enough water for cooking. And that’s enough water to drink. But what about taking a shower? How about cleaning yourself and your children? These are emergency measures that have been taken, and they have certainly underlined and dramatized the extreme crisis that is developing here. But providing bottled water to these communities was certainly not an answer to the water needs of these communities.
Racism has systematically destroyed black rural communities across America for more than a century.
From Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Durham, North Carolina, many once black utopias have been gutted by outside white forces bent on reclaiming or destroying the land our ancestors once lived on.
While black people fought against Jim Crow in the South, black residents of Allensworth, California lived in Nirvana. According to Travel Noire, the town grew rapidly and prospered as black residents built their own homes, schools and businesses, a library and a post office.
Most prevalent between 1912 and 1915, most of the land was devoted to growing sugar, wheat, barley, and cotton, as well as poultry, which were assets that many black business owners used to supply neighboring towns along the railway line.
According to Travel Noire, the Pacific Farming Company later decided to cut off Allenworth’s irrigation water supply. Soon after, Santa Fe Railroad officials built a new railroad station in the nearby town of Alpaugh, eventually shutting down service to Allensworth due to reported “low water levels”.
The move ended 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 today stands as a reminder of California’s first black city that racism ultimately destroyed.
California announces historic water restrictions to millions.
More than 6 million Southern Californians are now subject to 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 after California’s driest start to the year. The MWD board has never issued such severe cuts before, but said it had little recourse left after state officials cut deliveries from the state water project. only 5%. Learn more about the Los Angeles Times here.