By Rahel Kemal

On Saturday, October 19th, a group of PSR-LA staff, and allies from South and South East Los Angeles took an excursion along the LA River, then South LA’s industrial corridor, and then to Maywood. Finally, no toxic tour of LA would have been complete without a stop at Los Angeles’ notorious oil fields. The tour was a part of PSR-LA’s Water and Health project, which is creating awareness of LA water issues, specifically for South and South East LA residents.  

We started the tour at the LA River near the Glendale Narrows to introduce our cohort to the history of colonialism and the rapid urbanization that has shaped the history of the LA River Basin. The tour was a hands-on way to understand how our water systems have developed and how we can find a way to ensure that Los Angeles can meet its obligations to guarantee access to clean drinking water. It gave participants the opportunity to begin to reimagine the river and how we can work together to achieve our goal of ensuring access to clean, affordable drinking water to Los Angeles residents.

The passage of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act and the Human Right to Water Bill will bring huge investments in water infrastructure. The tour highlighted how Green Infrastructure and innovation can help us achieve the goal of getting clean drinking water to all Angelinos. It is important to note that many people currently do not have access to clean affordable water. Often, low-income black and brown communities do not trust their local water systems and opt instead to buy water in plastic bottles, unsafe vending machines, and even water stores, sometimes called Waterias.

From the river we headed to California Metal X to tour the facility and better understand their production of lead free brass alloys, “Eco Brass.” This Eco Brass, compared to other metal alloys when used for piping, can greatly reduce the risk of future water quality issues due to decay and leaching. From California Metal X, we traveled to the Inglewood Oil Field to discuss oil and gas extraction and how operations impact our drinking water sources, including the fact that the process uses vast amounts of water. 

While on the bus we discussed the different sources of LA’s drinking water, the history of how some of the smaller water districts in South and South East LA were formed, and the need to address the long-standing inequality in access to clean water. We also discussed the vital prospect of investing in local stormwater capture to become self sustaining. 

We concluded the tour by visiting the Maywood Mutual Water Company at their water treatment location, where Maria Elena Kennedy from the California Department of Water Resources discussed the issues of transparency, funding allocation, poor community water district management, and the implications these issues have on drinking water quality for Maywood’s customers.

Overall, this was a learning experience for us all on the complexity of Los Angeles’ water issues and the way industry impacts our drinking water. We were able to learn from and connect with experts who have years of experience with Los Angeles’ water issues, and engage in dialogue with community members. Following our tour, we hope to continue the conversations surrounding Southeast Los Angeles’ water issues and the human right to water. We also hope to continue to build relationships between community groups and water advocates to strive together to achieve safe, reliable, and affordable drinking water for all.