Two rural Tulare County towns will be the testing ground for a cutting-edge technology that could revolutionize the treatment of groundwater tainted with arsenic, the EPA announced this week.
A $30,000 grant will bring together 20 high school students from Allensworth and Alpaugh to learn about safe drinking water, conduct hands-on testing of arsenic treatment, and present findings to the community and decision-makers.
The students will work with a UC Berkely lab to test the technology, Electrochemical Arsenic Remediation, "an innovative, comparatively very low-cost approach to creating arsenic-safe drinking water," according to the announcement.
"Our youth become successful community leaders when we invest in them, and this EPA Environmental Justice grant creates such an opportunity to train future environmental stewards,” said Denise Kadara, president of Allensworth Progressive Association.
The grant is historically meaningful for Allensworth, California's first all-black settlement founded in 1908 by Colonel Allen Allensworth, a former slave who became a Buffalo Solider and was the highest-ranking black officer in the U.S. Army when he retired in 1906.
Allensworth prospered until the 1920s, when legal disputes with the white-controlled irrigation company left the southwestern Tulare County settlement bone dry and unable to irrigate its crops. The town's population gradually dwindled but many families remained until the 1960s, when arsenic was discovered in what little remained of the region's groundwater.
The town is preserved now as Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, a monument visited by thousands each year.
The grant is funded through the EPA's Environmental Justice program, an initiative meant to help rural and disadvantaged communities such as Allensworth, which tend to bear the brunt of environmental health risks — a trend EPA leaders say they are "working to reverse."
"By supporting often overlooked, local organizations that understand the unique challenges that their communities face, we're better able to put in place long-term solutions to improve the environment and health of underserved areas of the country," said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
CSET will work with the Allensworth and Alpaugh school districts, the local water district, the Tulare Basin Watershed Partnership, and UC Berkeley Gadgil Lab on the project.
"The work CSET does to assist communities to reach self-reliance through innovative pathways is a vital resource for the Central Valley," Rep. TJ Cox said. "I applaud the agency for investing in the youth of Allensworth and Alpaugh and helping them fully realize their potential as the environmental leaders of tomorrow.
"I look forward to bearing witness to the improvements that will come to these communities as a result of this project."
Joshua Yeager covers water, agriculture, parks and housing for the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @VTD_Joshy. Get alerts and keep up on all things Tulare County for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today.