KETTLEMAN CITY (CBS SF) — After years of empty promises the state is finally taking action to provide a Central Valley town with clean drinking water. The news comes just months after a KPIX 5 investigation.

State water officials made a special visit to Kettleman City to tell residents the good news in person: Construction of a long awaited water treatment plant is finally just months away.

“We anticipate being able to issue a funding agreement we hope in November,” said James Maugham of the California Department of Water Resources.

It’s needed, because Kettleman City gets its water from two wells that have been contaminated for decades with arsenic, a known carcinogen. High school senior Theresa Moreno is a youth organizer with local environmental group El Pueblo.

“It’s sad because other towns they are able to just open their sink and drink water out of it, we can’t,” Moreno said.

The state’s been providing bottled water to residents, but in May, a KPIX 5 investigation found fast food restaurants on the town’s popular strip mall along I-5 serving tap water to customers. Samples we tested earlier this year came back with arsenic well above the legal limit.

Local resident Maricela Mares Alatorre questioned state officials at the meeting.

“I am just wondering about the timing of this meeting. In August there was an expose done by CBS San Francisco,” she said. Alatorre believes our spotlight on the restaurants finally pushed the state to pay attention to her small farm working town.


“Well, I heard people were very unhappy. I heard that a lot of the restaurants were very concerned, about the fact that people found out that they were drinking contaminated water, the tourists going through,” she said.

The new water treatment plant will tap into the California aqueduct. It runs right through town, carrying fresh drinking water to Los Angeles and beyond. Yet Kettleman City residents don’t have access to it.

Many at the meeting said they’re not going to believe anything until they see it. Others questioned why months before even breaking ground on the project, water rates are already going up.

“Kettleman is a small town, so maybe the rest of California doesn’t care. But maybe we can get a lot of people to care, and help out,” said Moreno.

The meeting held in Kettleman City comes on the heels of a historic settlement agreement between the environmental justice group Greenaction and El Pueblo with the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the California Environmental Protection Agency.

The settlement aimed to resolve a civil rights complaint by Greenaction and El Pueblo over a decision to approve a permit to expand the Kettleman Hills hazardous waste landfill. The agreement contains provisions to conduct a community-based public health assessment for residents of Kettleman City.