SRFA DAC NEEDS ASSESSMENT

Community Perspectives: Case Studies

While the Needs Assessments developed for disadvantaged community (DAC) Census Places focused on infrastructure-related needs, issues, and opportunities identified by water purveyors, a separate “community-based Needs Assessment” was conducted in select communities served by those purveyors to identify customer perceptions of their water needs, concerns, and opportunities. The objective for this outreach was to identify issues from the community’s perspective to support both project development and community engagement.

The Sacramento River Funding Area (SRFA) Disadvantaged Community Involvement Project (DACIP) Technical Team, led by Carlos Quiroz of Quiroz Communications, engaged with each Regional Water Management Group to select a community within its Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) region for the community-based Needs Assessment Case Study. The communities eligible for selection were limited to those located in DAC Census Places, to ensure that the SRFA DACIP Technical Team would be able to match the information obtained by this task with the results of the Needs Assessments completed by the water purveyors. Additional criteria for selecting a community for the community-based Needs Assessment varied between regions. Common traits included possibility of language isolation (due to high population of non-English-speaking residents), migrant-worker communities, a high renter population, known water quality issues or insufficient wastewater services, lack of trust in drinking water supply, and others. The goal was to identify those communities most likely to be marginalized and/or unaware of issues about their water supply/purveyor and, subsequently, to connect with them to better understand their water and wastewater issues.

In 2018, four communities were selected to be targeted for these Case Studies. The communities selected for the community-based Needs Assessments, along with status of completion, are shown in the table below. Following is a brief summary of each community-based Needs Assessment Case Study.

IRWM Region

DAC Place Community
Selected

Status

Yuba

Linda/Olivehurst

Completed

Westside

Kelseyville

Completed

North Sacramento Valley

Grimes

Completed

Upper Pit River Watershed

Bieber

Completed

Upper Sacramento-McCloud

None selected

 

American River Basin

None selected

 

COMMUNITY PROFILES

Yuba: Linda and Olivehurst, California

Linda was selected by the Yuba Regional Water Management Group as the focus community for the Community-based Needs Assessment. Olivehurst was added soon after because it presented an opportunity to study two adjacent communities that shared similar populations, issues, and water sources. Both communities also have a large Latino and linguistically isolated community. For these reasons, it was decided to reach out to both communities simultaneously and to address their community-based water needs during this case study.

The methodology to gather information was a two-part approach. Person-on-the-street interviews were conducted throughout both towns, by knocking on doors and talking with residents in their homes, or approaching individuals outside Latino or Hmong markets and other gathering places. These brief interviews were designed to gage awareness of basic water issues, including participants’ familiarity with their water provider, any looming water concerns and overall perceptions. More in-depth stakeholder interviews were conducted with other residents. These longer interviews lasted between 45 and 90 minutes. These interviews were conducted over the phone or in respondents’ homes.

Outcomes
While respondent communities did not have numerous comments, they did have significant comments about their water supply and the overall health of the Yuba River. Most participants seemed relatively disengaged when it came to their water service.

  • Watershed Health – The biggest water-related complaint from either community was the condition of the Yuba River. Respondents expressed concern about the odor the river emits, the trash on the river and its banks and the homeless population that has made the riverside their home. Residents across the board wished there was something that could be done to restore the river to a level that could be enjoyed recreationally and as a natural resource.
  • Water Quality – Residents in both communities expressed dissatisfaction with the perceived quality of their tap water, primarily with regard to the water’s odor, taste, and color. Every respondent relies on bottled water to drink and, in some cases, to cook. Respondents spent up to $200/month on bottled water, which is a significant amount of money for low-income families. Respondents in both communities expressed a need for more information about the actual quality of the water.
  • Communication – An interesting difference surfaced between Linda and Olivehurst residents. While most of the respondents in both towns are renters, renters in Linda have their water costs included in their rent, so they don’t interact directly with the water agency or receive any direct information or communication from a water agency. Most of the renters in Olivehurst pay for water directly, separate from their rent. None of the Linda residents who participated could name Linda County Water District as their water purveyor. By contrast, Olivehurst residents were more likely to identify Olivehurst Public Utilities District as their water agency. The main issue Olivehurst respondents had with the agency was the insufficient number of Spanish-speaking staff available when customers come to the office to pay their water bill in person. There was also some frustration expressed over fees charged for paying the water bill with a credit or debit card.
  • Cost of Water – Most respondents did not complain much about their water rates. Several Linda residents noted that they pay less than other communities around them, while a few thought that other communities were less expensive. The main concern regarding the cost of water in Olivehurst was centered on water meters. Some Olivehurst residents are on meters, while others aren’t. Some respondents complained that there is a disparity in what is paid between those two groups.

Recommendations for Follow-up

  • Develop a system to ensure that water agency communication goes out to everyone, including renters.
  • WDevelop information and materials regarding water quality and watershed health. This information should be prepared in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner and disseminated to all residences, not just those who directly pay the water bill.
  • Consider staffing the customer service desk with a bilingual (fluent in English and Spanish) person to be better able to interact and answer questions for the two dominant languages of customers.
  • Develop a water-quality evaluation project within the system where customers complain of water-quality issues.

Westside: Kelseyville, California

Kelseyville was selected by the Westside Regional Water Management Group as the focus community of the Community-based Needs Assessment. The Regional Water Management Group wanted to prioritize a community in Lake County, and Kelseyville, in addition to its presence in Lake County, has a large Latino and linguistically isolated community.

The methodology to gather information was a multifaceted approach. In Kelseyville, person-on-the- street interviews were first conducted throughout town, by knocking on doors and talking with residents in their homes. These brief interviews were designed to gage awareness of basic water issues, including participants’ familiarity with their water provider, any water concerns and overall perceptions. More in-depth stakeholder interviews were conducted with other residents. These longer interviews lasted between 45 and 90 minutes and delved more in-depth into the water issues facing the community. These interviews were conducted over the phone or in respondents’ homes. A presentation and group discussion with parents of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students at Kelseyville elementary was conducted during one of their scheduled meetings. This provided an opportunity to discuss identified issues in a group setting, perhaps allowing people to be more comfortable than in a one-on-one situation.

Outcomes

  • Water Quality – Latino respondents overwhelmingly reported distrusting the quality of the water. Most of them will not drink it and instead rely on bottled water for consumption and some even for cooking. Respondents reported spending anywhere between $20 to more than $100 a month on bottled water. While most respondents reported not receiving information from the water purveyor regarding testing of the quality of their water, they indicated that such information would not likely reduce their concerns. They suspect that the quality of the water may be good at its source, where it is tested, but it does not maintain its quality by the time it arrives at their homes, due to older, rusted distribution pipes. The team conducted additional door-to-door outreach in a newer, more centralized neighborhood and all respondents in this area reported being happy with their water, many reporting to drink it directly from the faucet. The satisfaction with water quality in this area was much higher than in the older parts of town, were Latinos are more concentrated.
  • Agricultural Workers – Farmworkers interviewed reported that the farms provide large containers of water for them to consume throughout their workday, but that workers won’t drink it because they don’t know where the water comes from or the cleanliness of the container. All respondents who were farmworkers reported taking their own bottled water to work. An agricultural labor camp the team visited reported that their water was clean and that they regularly cleaned the water containers. But upon hearing the concerns voiced by farmworkers, stated that they could do more to communicate with their workers about the quality of the water provided. /li>
  • Cost of Water – Agricultural work is very seasonal. Farmworkers’ income fluctuates significantly from month to month, depending on weather and crop cycles. Interest was expressed to develop a payment plan that could mirror these cycles, where these customers could opt to pay more in the months when there’s work and less in the off months. Such a payment plan would help these customers meet their financial obligations while mitigating for the uneven income distribution.
  • Communication – A water bill is included in the rent for many Latinos. These renters noted never having seen any information from the water agency and not being able to name their water provider. This means that property owners or managers are not passing along that information. Direct communication between the water purveyor and residents, regardless of whether they are homeowners or renters, is critical particularly for emergency notifications. Furthermore, all respondents who do pay for their water directly and receive communication from their water purveyor reported that all the information they receive is in English. Kelseyville is a community comprised of 40% Latino residents, many of whom have limited English proficiency.
  • Clear Lake – A common thread throughout most interviews was a concern for the current state of Clear Lake. Longtime city residents recall the days when the lake water was clean and they felt comfortable enjoying recreational activities on the water. They wish something would be done to clean the lake. Respondents also expressed concerns that none of the safety signs posted along the lake’s shore are in Spanish. /li>

Recommendations for Follow-up

  • Conduct sample water testing at point-of-use locations in older neighborhoods to see if the quality of the water remains consistent with the quality at its origin. If it isn’t, investigate infrastructure issues that may be causing the disparity.
  • Ensure that communication from the water purveyor is reaching all residents, not just property owners and managers. Information should be sent to all addresses in the service area, not only to addresses of the actual ratepayers.
  • All communication should be in both English and Spanish. A collection of templates in Spanish for the most common communication needs could help facilitate this service. Signs at the lake could rely on iconography rather than written language to communicate risks and other important information.
  • Explore the feasibility of developing a rate payment schedule for farmworkers that mirrors the seasonal nature of their work.

North Sacramento Valley: Grimes, California

Grimes was selected by the North Sacramento Valley IRWM/TAC and Board as the focus community for the Community-based Needs Assessment. Grimes has documented water quality issues associated with naturally occurring arsenic, and the entire town is on a bottled water program. The methodology to gather information was twofold. In Grimes, person-on-the-street interviews were conducted throughout town, by knocking on doors and talking with folks in their homes. These brief interviews were designed to gauge awareness of basic water issues, including participants’ familiarity with their water provider, any water concerns and overall perceptions. More in-depth stakeholder interviews were conducted with other residents, including some current and former water district board members. These longer interviews lasted between 45 and 90 minutes and delved more into the water issues facing the community. These interviews were conducted over the phone or in respondents’ homes.

Outcomes
The findings from the Community-based Needs Assessment closely match the findings of the DAC Place-based Needs Assessments, with some important nuances:

  • Arsenic Contamination Risks – As identified in the Place-based Needs Assessment, the biggest issue facing Grimes residents is the presence of naturally-occurring arsenic in their water. Residents are all currently on bottled water provided by the Water District. The Community-based Needs Assessment demonstrated that there is a need for improved communications between the District and consumers about this issue. While respondents affiliated with the District (past and present) reported good communication, the general community voiced ongoing concerns regarding the risks posed by the arsenic in the water. District-affiliated respondents tended to view the issue as more of a regulatory issue than a public health concern. Some cautioned against highlighting the arsenic situation and causing undue panic. From the community’s perspective, it was reported that not enough information has been provided. Overwhelmingly, the community asked for more information about the risks posed by the arsenic for all types of water uses (i.e., hygiene, recreation, and in food gardens) and what they should be doing to protect themselves and their families.
  • Water Quality – In addition to the presence of arsenic, residents expressed other concerns about the quality of their tap water, such as staining their clothes when doing laundry, or concerns that the water may be making their hair and nails brittle. They do not know if this is caused by the arsenic or by something else, but they associate it with the water.
  • Water Wells and Supply Redundancy – As stated in the Place-based Needs Assessments, Grimes currently has two groundwater wells. However, only one of them is currently operational and supplying water. If power goes off at the operational well or it is down for any other reason, the town is left without water.
  • Water Pressure – While the water pressure is sufficient for everyday use, respondents reported that in the event of a fire necessitating response from multiple fire engines, there would not be enough water pressure for the fire engines to effectively fight the fires. This poses potential safety issues for the community.
  • Volunteer Board – As described in the Place-based Needs Assessment, the District board is made up of volunteers. What the Community-based Needs Assessment discovered is that all organizations in town, from the water board, to the cemetery board and others are all volunteer based. Over the years, it has been more and more difficult for these boards to attract volunteers. As the demographics in town change and new families locate here, they do not have the same connection to the town and history of volunteerism needed to keep the organizations, including the District, operational long term. With the majority of the community (66%) Latino, and many of those linguistically isolated, the town needs to develop new strategies to recruit and maintain their board while representing the community they serve.

Recommendations for Follow-up

  • Develop informational materials in English and Spanish to be distributed to all residences and customers (if different) in Grimes on the risks of arsenic and how tap water high in arsenic should be used.
  • Conduct public meetings (separate in English and Spanish) to address the issue of arsenic, provide targeted water use recommendations and answer the community’s questions.
  • Work with the water purveyor on the other water quality issues noted by the community to better understand options for addressing these issues either with education and/or project-based assistance.
  • Work with the water purveyor on emergency water and fire supply needs and develop a project that can be submitted for State funding.

Upper Pit River: Bieber, California

Bieber was selected by the Upper Pit River Regional Water Management Group as the focus community for the Community-based Needs Assessment. Bieber was selected due to its small size in this very rural region, as well as due to identified demographics that made this DAC Place an interesting case study. The methodology to gather information was twofold. In Bieber, person-on-the-street interviews were conducted throughout the town, including the market, post office, senior center and even door to door. These brief interviews were designed to gauge awareness of basic water issues, including participants’ familiarity with their water provider, any water concerns and overall perceptions. More in-depth stakeholder interviews were also conducted with willing residents. These longer interviews lasted between 45 and 90 minutes.

Outcomes
The findings from the Community-based Needs Assessment closely match the findings of the Place-based Needs Assessment:

  • Presence of Sulfur in the Water – Residents’ biggest and most common concern was the sulfur present in their water. None of the respondents drink the water from the tap, and instead purchase bottled water for consumption.
  • Old Infrastructure – The Place-based Needs Assessment identified replacement of aging infrastructure, such as the water main, which dates to the 1920s, as a key need. During the Community-based Needs Assessment, reports of that infrastructure starting to fail also surfaced. Locating and diagnosing water supply problems is expensive and residents fear bearing this cost when the entire system is known to be old and in need of replacement.
  • Water Meters – There are currently water use rules in place to promote water conservation in Bieber since the recent drought, such as only being able to water lawns during certain days of the week and the use of meters to support use-based water fees. As reported in the Place-based Needs Assessment, while the whole town is on water meters, only half of them are functional. This has created frustration in the community because not everyone is paying based on their usage.
  • Water Rates – Many of the respondents lamented the high and increasing cost of water and other utilities. In one example, a customer noted that between the cost of electricity, water and bottled water, the respondent spends nearly half of her monthly income. The town has recently seen some residents leave, meaning that the remaining residents are burdened with higher per-customer costs to keep the water system operational. In a town of roughly 300 people, that individual share can become quite sizeable.
  • Communication – Many respondents stated that they wished for better communication regarding water issues. Some suggested letters or fliers in the post office announcing such events as when the tanks will be cleaned, which can result in sediment being flushed into people’s homes. Furthermore, with nearly a quarter of the population of Bieber being Latino, it is important to have information and announcements prepared in Spanish as well as English.

Recommendations for Follow-up

  • Development of a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to help secure funding for infrastructure renovation. The CIP could be prepared with input from the community via meetings to help focus on key priorities and help the community to understand schedules and budgets for these projects.
  • Development of communication templates and notices in English and Spanish./li>

Next Steps for Phase 2 of the DACI Program

In 2019, the water purveyors for each of these four communities will be engaged to develop action items to address the issues that these case studies highlighted