www.montereycountyweekly.com march 28-april 3, 2024 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY 15 In 2012, California became the first state in the country to pass legislation declaring clean water is a human right. “Every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking and sanitary purposes,” according to Assembly Bill 685. That should seem self-evident. And yet, here in Monterey County, some people cannot drink their water. How to regulate the agriculture industry’s runoff is a complicated and politically charged matter. Will overregulation kill the industry? How much regulation is enough to protect the integrity of drinking water? These questions, along with many far more technical questions have been the subject of 20 years’ worth of evolving regulations from California’s nine regional water boards, including the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. Those technical questions are now in litigation; both farming interests and environmental interests have sued. A central issue is whether water boards can set specific, numerical caps on nitrate fertilizer that can be applied to fields. Environmental and community drinking water advocates argue such caps are the only option, while the ag industry disagrees. Some community groups are now asking a broader question of who has a right to clean water, and in an administrative complaint filed on March 18 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, they say the ongoing problem of nitrate-contaminated water is a civil rights violation. “Groundwater pollution in the form of excessive nitrates has an especially disproportionate impact on Latinx populations,” the complaint reads. The very people who work in the agriculture industry and live in agricultural communities are the people who suffer the consequences. Those people are disproportionately Latino. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Complainants allege the farm irrigation regulations violate Title VI, on the basis that Latino people are disproportionately harmed by nitrate contamination. The complainants are Comité De Salinas; Misión San Lucas; nonprofit Monterey Waterkeeper; and The Environmental Justice And The Common Good, an initiative of Santa Clara University. Comité and Misión are groups of regular people experiencing real harm from nitrates. One member of Misión San Lucas is Maria Velasquez. I first met Velasquez in 2013 when I was first reporting on nitrate contamination in the small South County community. At that time, Velasquez was frustrated after years of advocacy. That was before the grower believed to be responsible for nitrate contamination drilled a new well—then, after that well fouled, another one that also failed. That was 11 years ago, and the people in the community of San Lucas still can’t safely drink the tap water. “I have been working for 10 years to control the problem of nitrates in our water,” Velasquez said in a statement. “And, today, I am still fighting for this same cause.” It’s a cause that matters to people beyond San Lucas. In their complaint, the groups analyze state groundwater monitoring data in the context of census data. They found that majority-Latino communities were 4.36 times more likely to have wells that tested high for nitrates over (10 milligrams per liter). The complainants are asking EPA to see their disproportionate impact as a matter of civil rights. They hope the federal agency pushes state water regulators to implement specific, numeric, measurable caps on the amount of nitrates growers can use. Some of that is technical, but it’s also common sense. Valentin Resendiz-Luna is one of Velasquez’s fellow members of Misión San Lucas. In a declaration in support of the Title VI complaint, he wrote: “Although the future of our town’s access to drinking water is unclear, it is inarguable that limiting the amount of nitrogen used on our local farmland will reduce the amount of nitrates entering our water supply.” Sara Rubin is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at sara@mcweekly.com. Something in the Water A new challenge to the state water board rules alleges civil rights violations. By Sara Rubin Fare Share…Squid relies mostly on the 10-appendaged power of Squid’s own accord to get around efficiently, especially when Squid doesn’t feel like driving the old jalopy. So when Squid heard that MontereySalinas Transit had decided to permanently install RFID readers for land-dwellers to pay bus fares on all of their buses, Squid was delighted. After all, buses are a good solution to keeping the oceans (including Squid’s lair) cool, and offering a modern, contactless method of payment might help boost ridership. One of Squid’s colleagues tried to ride a bus, only to find out that the RFID reader was not working properly. They didn’t have any cash on them to pay the fare. The bus driver was nonplussed and said the RFID readers are “hit-or-miss.” Squid’s colleague reached out to MST General Manager/CEO Carl Sedoryk, who says the new validators were installed on all of the buses last summer, and have a higher success rate than those used in a State of California pilot project. Sedoryk adds that the old cash fareboxes have many more issues with fare validation than the new contactless ones. The bus driver was kind enough to let Squid’s colleague ride the bus for free that day, but if mass transit is ever implemented underwater, Squid will carry an extra set of clams to pay in case the technology goes haywire. Thumbs Down…Speaking of messy technological implementations, Squid has been hearing about mishaps from Apple’s recent updates—a peace sign is perceived on FaceTime, for instance, and all of a sudden balloons pop up. (Double peace signs, and you get confetti.) Reactions have now come for a local public agency. On March 5, the board of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District interviewed two candidates to fill a vacancy on the school board. Squid was tuning in remotely, and as Jayson Nissen and Sarah Ofstedal spoke about the purpose of public education, a thumbs-down emoji suddenly appeared right on top of Nissen’s head. Just as suddenly, it was gone. Was it a secret message from the IT wizard to the board (and the public)? Or just…Apple’s laptop operating system, as MPUSD’s Chief of Communications Marci McFadden tells Squid’s colleague. “The camera thought it observed somebody in the frame doing a thumbs down in the video and placed that animated reaction,” she reports. (Normally the IT team disables that function for video meetings, and in this case, it was inadvertently not done, McFadden adds.) The board voted to appoint Ofstedal to the seat, without remarking upon the little elves that run all the computers casting their vote against Nissen. For Squid’s part, it’s a clear no vote against Apple’s automatic and overly sensitive recognition updates. the local spin SQUID FRY THE MISSION OF MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY IS TO INSPIRE INDEPENDENT THINKING AND CONSCIOUS ACTION, ETC. “Today, I am still fighting for this same cause.” Send Squid a tip: squid@mcweekly.com