Polluted water has become synonymous with a number of water systems throughout Tulare County — and a new study released this week reveals the problem has placed a significant economic burden on thousands of Valley residents.
Becky Quintana and many of the more than 300 people living in Seville are afraid to drink the water coming from their taps. Instead, she and residents of east Orosi, Lemon Cove and dozens of small Valley communities are forced to buy bottled water for everything from drinking to brushing their teeth.
Yet they still pay the flat rate for tap water they're not using.
"We go through a lot of money to buy bottled water. We should be using that money for better things, like food," said Natalia Frias, 13, an eighth-grade student in Seville. "I've only drank the water from the tap twice."
The study randomly surveyed residents — all of whom have incomes below the poverty line — in four water districts in Tulare County. It found that the customers in those districts spent 4.6 percent of their household income on buying water, nearly three times the national average, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
"It's the people that can least afford it, who are paying the most for water," said Eli Moore, a lead author of the report who represents the Pacific Institute in Oakland.
The study also showed that many of those surveyed paid as much as 65-cents-per-gallon for water — about 200 times the average water rate in California. Furthermore, some residents reported spending as much as $120 on water each month.
"We spend $50 just on bottled water. We drive all the way to Walmart or Costco to get a good deal," said Ricardo Rosales, 14, an eighth grader from Seville. His family makes the 15-mile drive weekly.
Most in Seville only use tap water for showers and watering the lawn.
Quintana routinely has handfuls of sand on her shower floor after each use. She's heard stories of pollywogs coming from the faucet and Thursday she found thousands of little black bugs swarming the pipe that feeds water to the entire city. A pipe with a loose joint.