Compton Residents Are Saying There’s Something in the Water and They’re Not Happy About It

Presented By The California Endowment
Leslie Ambriz 

Credit: Max Goldwasser/USC Annenberg Media 

The water in Compton may be flowing, but residents, like Teresa Aguirre,  aren’t in any hurry to pour themselves a glass.

The 15-year Compton resident says she opens her faucet, only to be greeted with dirty water. Aguirre says she and her neighbors are forced to buy water because the water delivered to their homes is unsafe. It’s a brown, rust color that resembles a watered down cup of coffee.

“We’re using jugs of water to drink and cook,” said Aguirre.

The water is delivered through the Sativa Water District. They’re a small company serving over 1,600 residents living in the unincorporated area of Compton and Willowbrook.

 

Despite complaints of brown and bad-smelling water, representatives of the company say that it’s only a discoloration and the water is usable.

“The water that we provide to customers is safe to drink,” said Sativa General Manager, Maria Rachelle Garza in a recent press conference.

She says the brown discoloration is a result of flushing, a method used to flush out mineral and sediment build up in old water pipes. According to Garza, the pipes in this area are over 70 to 80-years-old. Garza says residents were notified of the potential flushing consequences, but Aguirre says that notices were only displayed on every other household.

 

 

Attorney Mark Ravis is calling this an example of environmental racism and L.A. County’s version of Flint, Mich. He’s helping residents file a claim for the damages.

 

“The water is not drinkable. The few people who drink it have gotten sick and the few people who bathe in it have gotten rashes. There’s no way it could be safe,” said Ravis.

In a Facebook Live video, Ravis can be heard saying that some Mexican-American residents have gone so far as to drive to Mexico to bathe until their rashes go away.

 

Sativa gave residents a chemical called (Red)-B-Gone –a rust and iron stain remover. They were told to put it in their water and that everything would be OK.

But in an interview with USC Annenberg Media, Sativa Representative Juan Garza says he would not even drink the water himself.

When added to the water, (Red)-B-Gone turns the water from brown and murky to white and cloudy. Is it drinkable though? Aguirre doesn’t believe it is.

“It’s poison,” said the 41-year-old. The back of the (Red)-B-Gone container reads: HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED.

Ravis says he plans to take the water company to court with a huge lawsuit. The attorney has already sent a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown. He’s asking for them to declare this a state of emergency. He says he has yet to hear back. According to him this water issue is not new. It’s only getting worse.

 

Melissa Hebert runs a local news blog that focuses on events around  Compton, Willowbrook, Inglewood and Watts. She says this water crisis has been going on for months.

In 2016, the Compton Herald reported that Supervisor Janice Hahn had written a request for the Environmental Protection Agency  work with the California State Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water. She wanted them to test the safety of water in Compton, after residents complained of “mud-colored tap water.”

 

“Residents are going over to the Compton city council meeting. They are getting pushed back by saying, OK, that’s not in our district because it’s in the unincorporated area,” Hebert told Mitú.

Compton residents say they no longer want any water from the Sativa Water District. They hope it gets shut down, and they can get water from somewhere else. Those who say they have experienced health issues because of the discolored water should seek treatment. They can visit Covered CA to find out if they’re eligible for Medi-Cal.

Resident, Martha Barajas told us the community is expected to receive 40,000 cases of water this weekend.

 

Until the issue is solved, Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragan will be hosting a Water Quality Town Hall on Wednesday, May 2nd at George Washington Elementary School from 6 – 7:30 pm. Both state and local officials are expected to be in attendance. Barragan says she will be addressing the water quality challenges in the city and the Safe Water Drinking Act.