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“Is it drinkable?” »: Concerns persist about tap water quality in East Palo Alto


EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) — Residents of East Palo Alto continue to question the quality of their water. On Thursday, the nonprofit Nuestra Casa hosted a community event to help connect directly affected residents.

Resident Toby Goldberg said problems persist.

“There have been a few incidents where the water has been temporarily turned off. I am also concerned about the quality of the water. I do not drink the water directly from our tap, I will not drink it unless it not be filtered,” Goldberg said.

Leticia Martinez has lived in East Palo Alto for 30 years. She said her water seems clear and good, but she continues to buy bottled water.

“I want to know if our water is really good, that’s my question: is it drinkable?” Martinez said.

A year ago, a video showing brown, smelly water was taken by a resident who said that’s what it looked like when the pipes were cleaned.

VIDEO: East Palo Alto residents say ‘brown’ tap water is harming their health and finances.

Nuestra Casa collected a survey that was part of a larger report in which hundreds of residents expressed concern about the quality and aging of water infrastructure.

Mayor Lisa Gauthier says the water study brought their attention to things they might have overlooked.

A few months later, the city says it continues to work on it.

“I’m proud to say that we just received $2 million in resources from Congressman Papan’s office and that will help us bridge the gap on a water project that is really important going from City Hall to Donahoe , which will provide cleaner water. We know infrastructure is an issue, so being able to do that will have an impact,” Gauthier said.

Gauthier still wants to know if people buy bottled water.

“As an elected official, I don’t know what’s going on with everyone. So it’s important to have a system or process that allows me to hear individuals’ opinions. So we need to continue to have the discussion – without being afraid of,” Gauthier said.

There are three separate water companies that serve East Palo Alto and each company receives water from different sources.

MORE: High lead levels found in SF school faucets, playground; district wants students tested

Laura Feinstein was one of the panelists and works for the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association.

“So there are two small suppliers in East Palo Alto that only serve part of the community and they have sometimes had difficulty meeting what are called taste and odor standards for drinking water. So that means the water is safe to drink, it won’t be safe to drink.” It doesn’t harm your health, but it does mean that a lot of times it looks brown or it smells bad and of course people don’t want to drink brown water or bad-smelling water,” Feinstein said.

She added that if the pipes are old or contain lead, the water will not be safe.

Some residents want to know what comes next.

“If it’s about writing letters to local politicians, if it’s about changing the source of water we use every day – but about feeling a little more empowered rather than passively accepting everything what goes into our pipes,” Goldberg said.

The mayor said his water system master plan needs more money and resources to repair infrastructure, but acknowledged that problem is taking too long.

“If you think about water and health equity, water is a right and people should be healthy and have clean water coming from their pipes. It’s an issue that, I agree, endures, and we have to find a way to make it happen. It’s settled,” Gauthier said.

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