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EPA issues new emergency drinking water to Oasis Mobile Home Park

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new emergency drinking water order to the Oasis Mobile Home Park, located on the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians Reservation near Thermal.

The community has had three EPA emergency orders issued, all related to high-levels of Arsenic found in the drinking water.

Photo of water at the park from Sept 1, 2020 (Courtesy of Nataly Escobedo García & colleagues)

In January 2021, 20 Oasis Mobile Home Park residents filed a lawsuit d unsafe and unhealthy living conditions against the landlord due to the unsafe conditions.

In July 2021, Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz said that local BIA leadership allowed the owners of Oasis Mobile Home park to operate without a business license and with unsafe conditions for more than 13 years before the park faced a contaminated water issue.

The EPA's latest order requires the current management of Oasis, as well as the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) land allotment trustees, to comply with federal drinking water requirements by correcting ongoing problems with Oasis’ drinking water system that endanger residents.

EPA is ordering Oasis management to provide alternative drinking water to residents, reduce the levels of arsenic in the Oasis drinking water distribution system, and monitor the water for contamination.

The Oasis Mobile Home Park’s current drinking water system serves approximately 1,100 residents using groundwater that has naturally occurring arsenic.

This is the third emergency issued at the mobile home park since 2019.

The first order was issued in August 2019 when it was found that the level of an arsenic contaminant in the community's drinking water was nine times above the maximum contaminant level as set in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to the EPA, Arsenic is a known carcinogen, and drinking high levels over many years can increase the chance of lung, bladder, and skin cancers, as well as heart disease, diabetes, and neurological damage

In September 2020, EPA issued a second emergency order for failure to comply with the arsenic MCL after Oasis switched to a backup well that provided treated water with high arsenic levels. The second order also pertained to technical concerns of arsenic contamination throughout Oasis’ distribution system, including residential homes.

Despite the EPA's warnings, the issues at the park continued throughout the two years.

"The issue of arsenic has not changed, there are still high levels of the water and besides they have problems with the problem with the drainage," Nataly Escobedo Garcia, water coordinator for the Leadership Council, told Telemundo 15's Marco Revuelta on July 2, 2021.

Both 2019 and 2020 orders were issued to the park owner, Scott Lawson, Sr., who died in May 2021. Lawon's heirs have since taken over operations at Oasis.

"EPA is committed to ensuring access to clean water at Oasis Mobile Home Park,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Director Amy Miller. “This new order ensures that current operators and owners continue to provide alternative water to residents and take action to bring the system into compliance.”

The EPA's new order requires Oasis Mobile Home Park owners and operators to:

  • Provide at least one gallon of drinking water per person per day at no direct or indirect cost for every individual served by the system.
  • Hire a certified water operator to evaluate the distribution system on-site no less than 7 days a week. 
  • Retain a technical provider to provide an assessment of the current operations of the arsenic treatment and water distribution systems.
  • Submit a sampling plan to verify the efficacy of any measures put in place to control arsenic.
  • Submit a flushing plan to intermittently flush sitting water from the entire system.
  • Submit a corrective action plan that analyzes and provides corrective actions to treat excessive levels of arsenic within the system.
  • Provide communication in both English and Spanish to residents about any effects or impacts the actions required by the order will have upon residents.

The EPA added that although the mobile home park is in the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Tribe lands, the tribe has no direct control or ownership of the water system and has been consulted about the violations.

Local and state leaders have also unveiled plans to possibly move Oasis Mobile Park residents from the troubled park to a new land.

State Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) included a $30 million budget request to support the 1,900 residents of the park. The inclusion was approved and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom as part of the state budget.

Plans for the move continue to develop. Stay with News Channel 3 for continuing updates.

Learn more about the plan to move Oasis' residents through Telemundo 15's story on July 2, 2021.

Jesus Reyes

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