Opinion: Action needed on East Palo Alto’s water crisis

Daily Post Editor

Flint, Mich., Jackson, Miss., and East Palo Alto are three cities that have serious drinking water problems. The first two cities have received a lot of national media attention. East Palo Alto’s problems, which go back decades, have barely generated a blip on the radar screen.

But the water in East Palo Alto is so bad that 75% of residents buy bottled water for drinking or cooking, according to a new survey by the advocacy group Nuestra Casa.

Moreover, Nuestra Casa tested the water at more than 50 homes and found harmful metals and other kinds of contamination.

You’d think with all of the state and federal agencies involved in water quality that just one of them would be working on this problem. You’d think that East Palo Alto and San Mateo County’s political leaders would be working to fix this. Where is Congresswoman Jackie Speier? Or the two candidates who want to replace her, County Supervisor David Canepa and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin? Where’s County Supervisor Warren Slocum?

The bad water continues generation after generation, and people just get used to buying bottled water.

If this was happening just a mile or two away in Palo Alto or Menlo Park, everyone would call it a “crisis.” TV news crews would be going door-to-door to interview angry residents who are horrified to get brown water when they open their tap. 

But because this is East Palo Alto, you’re not going to see this story on the news or in any other newspaper than the Post. 

The solution is two fold: 

1. Come up with a plan to fix the water problem, which means hiring an engineer to figure out where new pipes are needed and which ones should be replaced. 

2. Get the tens of millions of dollars needed to get clean water to everybody in town. There should be state and federal funds available for this. The federal government is spending trillions to stop climate change, aren’t there millions to provide clean water to a city of 29,000 people?

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays in the print edition of the Daily Post.


  1. It’s hard to believe this is happening in a town next door to one of the richest places on Earth. This represents a break down in local government.

  2. Yes, East Palo Alto needs to replace aging water infrastructure, but a majority of people buy bottled water and water filters regardless. Bottled water is sold everywhere in the world. This has nothing to do with water quality or anything specific to East Palo Alto. If you really care about water quality and being factual, I would recommend contacting the State Water Resources Control Board or the California Public Utilities Commission to see what metrics are critical to ensuring water is safe to drink and how water is tested and monitored.

    You know it’s election time when they start reporting fake news.. EPA residents know there are strong ties between council member Carlos Romero and Nuestra Casa. Some of Nuestra Casa’s board members were appointed to the planning commission by the city council (Juan Mendez, Uriel Hernandez). I wouldn’t recommend relying on non-profits who receive funding from the city and do political and social advocacy on their behalf.

  3. What’s “fake news” about brown water coming out of the tap? “EPA citizen” seems more like an angry city council member or EPA San District board member. While both of these governments have been ripping off residents for years, feathering their own nest, the water system has fallen apart. Instead of solving problems “EPA citizen” is attacking others. If you’re not going to help, get out of the way. Typical.

  4. Anytime somebody tries to improve life in East Palo Alto, there’s a bunch of entrenched politicians and lackeys who try to stop them. They don’t want to lose their ability to grift local governments and nonprofits. So they always lash out. If an outside agency were to investigate why East Palo Alto hasn’t improved its water system for 20-30 years, they’d find a bunch of people should be brought up on criminal charges.

  5. REMINDER: The family of council candidate Webster Lincoln runs one of East Palo Alto’s water companies. Read up on their reputation and ket that inform your vote.

    Please note the city doesn’t have any authority with these other two water companies. Nuestra Casa has not done a good job communicating their findings of their water testing. Thry’ve created lots of confusion.

    • @melissa, thanks for revealing your real motive here. You don’t care if the water is cleaned up, you’ve got a score to settle. Time for your pound of flesh. And it’s petty feuding like that results in nothing getting done. Everybody’s grudge comes before the community’s greater wellbeing. Thanks for being honest about it.

      • DQ, your interpretation of my comment is bizarre. If I was in any position to fix the problem I would. I dud already offer helpful advice in my comment. Ignore it at your peril!

        It’s good news that the majority of the community doesn’t have the water problems that some residents have. OTOH trying to fix the existing problems can be difficult, especially when dealing with the infamous PAMWC.

        The city water meeting next month will be helpful since Nuestra Casa hasn’t been transparent so far about their findings and from which water source(s) they found problems.

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