Girl Planting seeds

Dried out: big ag threatens clean water in rural California

Colonel Allen Allensworth, a former slave who rose to become a Union officer during the American civil war, had founded the eponymous town in 1908, when he bought 2,700 acres of alkali flats to establish a black utopia in a part of the San Joaquin Valley known as the Tulare Basin. By 1913, some 1,200 people from across the country had responded to Allensworth’s call – sent out via newspaper advertisements – to build the “Tuskegee of the west”. Back then, abundant clear water flowed from artesian wells, enough to drink and to irrigate crops of alfalfa, sugar beets and corn, along with feed for livestock.  But when Morrison arrived, all that remained of Allensworth’s vision was a nostalgic new state park, established in 1976 to commemorate the fallen town, and a tumbledown village of mostly Latino migrant workers and a few African American families, grinding out a spare existence on the now-parched land. They cooked, when they could afford it, with expensive propane brought in by the tank. If they had toilets to flush, the sewage went into faulty septic systems; many of them used outhouses instead. Their wells were determined to be contaminated with arsenic, at levels too high for human consumption. A remedial treatment system never proved quite adequate: residents still drove miles to fill tanks with clean water from other jurisdictions.  Read more...



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