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‘Contaminated Communities’: help for arsenic-tainted mobile home park water systems


Right now in the east valley, tens of thousands of people are without consistent access to safe drinking water.

It's an issue we've been tracking at Oasis Mobile Home Park since the EPA stepped in last August.

For the last six months, people there have invited us into their homes to highlight an issue with what some call life's most precious resource: contaminated yellow water rushing from their faucets, at times with up to nine times the legal limit of cancer-causing arsenic.

Martena Zacarías worries what it's doing to her kids.

"A lot of times they feel sick and I'll take them to the doctor, but they never know what's really wrong," she said.

The water is so toxic that the Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order telling the roughly 2,000 residents of the Oasis Mobile Home park not to drink the water.

Residents said their rent has jumped $100 a month. Oasis management wouldn't talk on camera but tells News Channel 3 the increase was already planned and is unrelated to the contaminated water.

In December, local authorities added a free water tank to increase accessibility to clean drinking water.

"We get to drink something now," said Angel Aguilar, an Oasis resident.

Fixing the issue and getting clean water into these homes is a problem that goes beyond just Oasis Mobile Home Park.

"Right now in the east valley we have approximately 30,000 people who are drinking water that is contaminated in one form or another," said Mike Dixon, a project manager working on infrastructure to solve water issues like those at Oasis.

The east valley lacks water infrastructure, so many communities tap into well water with systems that experts said can be unreliable and difficult to maintain.

"They must be drilled properly, typically they will fail for a reason that no one can fathom and they have to be replaced at great expense," Dixon said.

Local water officials and other community members have now formed a first-in-the-state task force to make drinking water safe again by linking those small community water systems along Avenue 70, including Oasis, to existing infrastructure.

Castulo Estrada from the Coachella Valley Water District said CVWD is restricted from expanding coverage to communities like Oasis using funds from current customers. Instead, he's pushing the state to fund what's called the San Jose Community Project.

"It's a project that's complicated. It's a project that's very costly," Estrada said.

He said it could take 10 years and up to $10 million dollars to complete. The money could come from the state's Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, controlled by a state advisory board, to which Estrada was recently appointed.

"We're doing everything we can to make sure we find solutions for them," Estrada said.

The Zacarias family said those solutions can't come soon enough.

What's next? CVWD is getting ready to submit their projects and apply for state funds. Until the project is green-lit, they are working with the EPA to make sure there's a long-term plan in place.

The EPA said the water at Oasis remains out of compliance, which requires arsenic levels to test below the threshold over a four-quarter period. They expect the earliest Oasis Mobile Home Park can come into compliance is between April and June of this year.

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Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.


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