Migrant camp finally getting water hookup

Completion of pipeline ends long-time problem

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comMarch 1, 2013 

Clean water will no longer be a luxury at the Rafael L. Silva Migrant Family Housing Center. After years of relying first on contaminated wellwater and subsequently a temporary connection from Los Banos, the migrant center has its own water pipeline

The center opened in May 2006, seven months after the Merced County Department of Public Health declared the well on the Henry Miller Road property had unacceptable levels of arsenic, copper and radioactive properties.

Tuesday, the California Department of Public Health announced the completion of a 12-inch pipeline establishing a permanent water connection between the center and the city of Los Banos. The $932,000 project was completed Feb. 8. It was paid for through Proposition 84, which provides funding for safe drinking water projects.

"The state is committed to providing safe drinking water to all Californians by helping local water districts address their issues efficiently," Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a news release.

The migrant center has 49 units with an estimated 200 residents from May to November.

A permanent solution to the migrant center's water problem took years. From 2006 to 2009, the county Housing Authority paid $30,000 each harvest season to have 5-gallon bottles of water per family per week brought to the center.

Families living at the center complained that the water ration was not enough to drink and have clean water to perform household chores and practice good hygiene. Many migrants supplemented their ration with the contaminated wellwater.

"Some of us even wash our dishes in it," center resident Rosa Castro said in 2008.

The same year, Martin Jimenez said his family used the well water to shower. "Your hair falls out," he said.

In 2009, the California Department of Fish and Game agreed to allow the migrant center to use its nearby 6-inch pipeline to get water from the city of Los Banos.

It was a temporary fix. According to the California Department of Public Health, the connection and the piping was not sufficient on a long-term basis.

Renise Ferrario, executive director of the county Housing Authority, was unavailable for comment.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached by phone at 388-6563, or by e-mail at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached by phone at 388-6563, or by e-mail at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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