It Is All About Water and Environmental Health in Our Communities A visit to our grantees in Southern California

By: Laura Fernandez, grants associate 

 

In February, I had the opportunity to visit the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area to check out the wonderful work some of our community partners and current grantees are doing. The three organizations I met with work around water quality issues in Los Angeles, Riverside and Ventura counties, and make community involvement an essential part of it. Grants that support these organizations have been possible through the California Watershed Protection Fund.

 

Los Angeles Waterkeeper

Out of its Santa Monica office Los Angeles Waterkeeper (LAW) has been locally rooted, but well connected across the city to carry out efforts that protect not only the bay but also enhance the water quality of the LA River. Bruce Reznik, LAW Executive Director, mentioned the importance of looking at both coast and inland water issues that pertain to disadvantaged communities and environmental health, and highlighted the 3Rs as a way to tackle root causes of water issues:

  • Reduce water consumption both in the industry and domestically
  • Reuse water, especially stormwater collected through green infrastructure, permeable pavement, including sidewalks etc
  • Restore the health of watersheds and rivers by carrying clean ups, restoration and riparian work

 

Community Involvement

LAW’s Watershed Program currently brings community members into action – by engaging volunteers, partnering with residents living in industrial areas at high risk of pollution, and working with high schools students – and trains them to take samples, collect data and monitor the water quality of the LA River, of storm drain outfall points, and of stormwater. Our support to LAW enables broad community based stewardship activities in order to ensure that one day every Angeleno will have access to swimmable, fishable and drinkable waters.

See what LAW has in store for this year’s Earth Day: http://sup4cleanwater.org/

 

Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice

South of Los Angeles, I visited Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), a historic reference to grassroots organizing in favor of a clean and safe environment for Inland Valley communities. If there is one thing to take away from my conversation with Founder Penny Newman is her inspiring story of resistance and justice in the battle of the Stringfellow Acid Pits, California’s worst toxic waste site and top Surpefund. As a result, CCAEJ’s approach to community empowerment is grounded in that battle. Learn more more about unprecedented case through an 1983 New York Times article.

 

Now, onto water as this is another front greatly impacted by the industrial nature of Riverside and San Bernardino. Penny mentioned the most pressing threats to the nearby Santa Ana River and Anza Channel are violations to the Clean Water Act and California Environmental Quality Act by industrial facilities and loopholes in regulations for accountability by developers in stormwater runoff. The current grant from the Rose Foundation supports CCAEJ’s Accountability, Compliance and Enforcement Project in augmenting regulatory agency actions and enhancing protection for warehouse workers and of the natural environment in the Santa Ana River Watershed.

With CCAEJ Staff Penny Newman (center) and Xonia Villanueva from partner organization Concerned Friends of Wildomar (right)

Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy

The socio-economic justice oriented organization Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) started including an environmental component to their work over a decade ago. Today, the organization is an active player in various counties of the Central Coast in protecting communities from environmental hazards like power plants in Santa Paula, where in two weeks over 10,000 signatures were collected in opposition! Their current environmental work around water issues and water quality is related to the Santa Clara River. I went to visit the River in Santa Paula with two key CAUSE staff, Cameron Yee and Aracely Preciado, and witnessed low impact recreation use and access to the River. CAUSE is turning this into an opportunity for stewardship building and impact mitigation of the watershed.

 

 

Santa Ana River passing through the city of Santa Paula

With the support of a three year Rose Foundation grant, the organization embarked on a multi-year campaign, the Santa Clara River Action Project (SCRAP), to organize, educate, and mobilized residents to address issues of water quality, water use and access to a healthy environment in the Santa Clara River watershed. Because of SCRAP, CAUSE was invited to join the Watersheds Coalition of Ventura County Disadvantaged Community Committee. This committee is proposing how to spend Prop 1 funding to involve disadvantaged communities in Ventura County,and CAUSE will be doing the outreach for workshops on projects that are funded.

Check this post on CAUSE’s work with environmental resilience in the River: https://causenow.org/article/drought-resilience-along-santa-clara-river.

 

These three great organizations, being through direct service and/ or community outreach and stewardship, these three organization, are playing a vital role in enhancing and protecting the water quality of surrounding rivers and water sources, and guaranteeing healthy environment for disadvantaged communities in the Central Coast and in Southern California.

 

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