The water filtration systems include “point of use” systems that are installed under kitchen sinks. The systems are designed to filter out harmful chemicals to make the water coming through the faucet safe to drink.

The Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation began its work in the eastern Coachella Valley in 2008. The goal was to help drive community-driven solutions to issues facing residents.

In that decade and a half, the same fundamental challenges have continued to come up, such as the lack of affordable housing, said founder and executive director Sergio Carranza. Another one of the most frequent issues that Pueblo Unido hears about from residents: A lack of safe drinking water.

“Ever since I started this work, they’ve told me their priority is drinking water,” he said.

Sergio Carranza has led the Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation since 2008.

That’s because the rural region lacks the same infrastructure as other parts of the valley, leaving residents to use well water or small water systems. This can lead to instances of arsenic or other pollutants in the water—and potentially negative health outcomes.

“We are about 40 to 45 years behind in development in comparison to any new city in the Coachella Valley. (The incorporated cities) already enjoy all this critical infrastructure, and people take it for granted,” Carranza said.

However, Pueblo Unido is working on a short-term solution. The organization this year received $1.4 million in state funding to help with one of its ongoing priorities: delivering and installing water-filtration systems in the area’s mobile homes. The systems filter out harmful chemicals, like arsenic.

The funding will allow new water-filtration systems to be installed in about 600 houses, Carranza said. Some will receive “point of use” systems, which are installed under a kitchen sink to filter the water before it comes out of the faucet. It will also cover “point of entry” systems, which filter water for the entire household. 

Pueblo Unido already installed 400 point-of-use systems in previous years, using funds from other sources, Carranza said. But the short-term filtration solution doesn’t appeal to everyone. For example, not all residents trust the water-filtration devices to work, meaning they have to find other avenues for safe drinking water.

Still, Carranza said, most feedback is positive. Residents don’t have to pay for installation or annual maintenance, and samples are sent out for testing to ensure that the systems are working correctly.

“It has been overwhelmingly welcome in the families, because this came from the community. This was work community-requested,” he said.

Pueblo Unido has installed about 400 water-filtration systems in homes in the eastern Coachella Valley.

But these systems won’t address the underlying issue: the lack of water infrastructure, which means many mobile-home parks don’t have reliable access to safe drinking water. Carranza said Pueblo Unido is collaborating with the Coachella Valley Water District on the agency’s plans to install large underground water mains in the area, such as the Avenue 66 transmission line. CVWD has told the Independent that it’s raised more than $70 million in funding for water and sewer infrastructure in the eastern Coachella Valley—after years of not playing any role in the area.

Pueblo Unido is working as a “technical assistance provider” to CVWD. That includes coming up with design plans and doing environmental impact assessments for some of the water-main consolidation plans that would bring together existing small water systems. In particular, it’s working on plans for a line on Pierce Street, and a stretch of Avenue 76. Once those plans are completed, they’ll be turned over to CVWD to fund the project.

This work has been going on since 2016. Carranza acknowledges that the timeline is long, citing lengthy processes to do environmental reviews and develop plans.

“It requires coordination by everyone, all the organizations that are directly involved in the community,” Carranza said.

But just as important—if not more so—is to hear from residents about what they want, Carranza said.

“It is extremely critical to learn and to listen to the priorities of the communities, and understand their culture so that you can actually use that information to start crafting all the strategies that are needed to respond to their needs,” Carranza said.

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Melissa Daniels

Melissa Daniels is a writer and digital media consultant who has called the Coachella Valley home since 2019. She's originally from Rochester, N.Y., and spent several years covering state government and...

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