Norma Bustillos doesn’t keep water in the family’s backyard pool. Photographed Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 12, 2020 in Fairmead.

Norma Bustillos doesn’t keep water in the family’s backyard pool. Photographed Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 12, 2020 in Fairmead.

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Good morning, and welcome to the Fresnoland Lab newsletter. Today is Sunday, August 16th.

This week in Fresnoland, Dympna Ugwu-Oju reported on the “glass ceiling” for Black workers in Fresno, and we launched the application for our new Fresnoland Documenters program.

It’s Danielle Bergstrom, policy editor for Fresnoland, here.

Like tens of thousands of residents across the San Joaquin Valley, I grew up drinking water from a private well.

I never really thought much about it. Sure, the water was cloudy sometimes. And often it would sputter out of the faucet — first yellow, then slowly turn clear. But like many people, I assumed that if it really wasn’t safe to drink or bathe in, someone would say something or make sure that I couldn’t drink it. Right?

When I was in college, my dad, a farmer, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer that has been linked in several studies to pesticide exposure. After multiple hospital stays and bouts with chemotherapy and radiation, he survived. Many aren’t as lucky. He has health insurance — some research estimates that around half of farmworkers lack health insurance.

Unlike community water systems, private wells aren’t regulated by the state. There’s no water quality testing requirements, and people who do want their well water tested do not always have clarity about where they can go.

That’s just part of the challenge that people who rely on private wells face.

More than 90% of residents in the San Joaquin Valley rely on groundwater as their primary source of drinking water —agriculture wells, community water system wells, private wells — they all are straws dipping into the same cup.

And during droughts, when there’s no snowmelt and rain to fill the canals that deliver water to irrigate farms, many farmers dug deeper groundwater wells to keep their crops alive.

In the last drought, many private wells went completely dry, leaving people to rely on bottled water or have neighbors and community organizations help truck in water. If they’re lucky enough to have a significant cash reserve, they could drill a deeper well for about $20,000, and hope they dug deeper than their neighbors — some of whom may be larger agricultural corporations with deeper pockets and the ability to go even deeper.

It’s quite literally a race to the bottom of the aquifer, another name for the vast area of water stored underneath the ground.

Amidst this crisis, in 2014, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, a sweeping and controversial piece of legislation that was meant to finally address our vanishing groundwater resources.

The law was ostensibly seen as something that primarily impacted farmers, since agriculture is by far the largest user of groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley.

But since hundreds of thousands of people in the Valley rely on groundwater as their primary source of drinking water, the decisions that are made to reduce overpumping of groundwater as a result of SGMA impact them greatly.

New research from a team of researchers at the UC Davis Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior found that these new groundwater plans are falling short in addressing concerns for drinking water users of the aquifer.

And while California is not officially in a drought (or did we ever exit the last one?), most of the San Joaquin Valley is facing abnormally dry or moderate drought conditions. Many people don’t have much time to wait for plans for “new” water from the delta or other watersheds to be delivered to supplement groundwater use and prevent the aquifer from further decline. Farmland retirement — which most parties have acknowledged will have to happen to maintain sustainable groundwater levels — could take years to implement. No one wants to go first.

Monica Vaughan, the Fresnoland water and development reporter, has begun investigating the challenges that people have with their private wells. The stories are starting to pour in. In the coming weeks, she’ll be sharing more about this growing challenge and how different local agencies are responding to the crisis.

If you rely on a private well for your drinking water, please fill out our survey!

And now, the week’s top reads:

(For the most recent local coronavirus updates, visit

The Fresno Bee launched “Fresno Voices” this week — a series that will highlight first-person and reported stories featuring the racial and ethnic diversity of our region. Fresno Bee

Rolling blackouts hit California electricity grid for the first time since 2001 energy crisis. Fresno Bee

With no new coronavirus aid, Fresno debates how it will spend $10.2 million in CARES Act funds. Fresno Bee

OPINION: Compromise vote clears the way for much needed San Joaquin River access from Fresno. Fresno Bee

A 20-year old Fresno entrepreneur has her sights set on a project near Fresno airport. The Business Journal

A popular discount grocery store is coming to Fresno. Fresno Bee

Sales at retail stores are almost back to the pre-pandemic level; however, experts expect a dip soon. Fresno Bee

The Clovis Roundup publisher interviewed Clovis Mayor Drew Bessinger about the impact of COVID-19 on the community. Clovis Roundup

The vote by the Judicial Council of California to end temporary statewide protections for people who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic means that the state will resume eviction and foreclosure proceedings on Sept. 1, unless the state Legislature takes action. Los Angeles Times

More than five dozen advocacy groups have launched tools to arm Black and Latino voters to detect and avoid online manipulation. Los Angeles Times

A dangerous, humid heatwave is coming to California. Weather West

Talks between Democrats and Republicans are stalled, and unemployment and stimulus aids are not anywhere in sight. Los Angeles Times

Those hoping to receive the money promised by President Trump in his executive orders have a long wait ahead of them. New York Times

Poor kids are being severely impacted by online learning. Los Angeles Times

In California, you can drill for oil next to a home. Activists hope to change that. Los Angeles Times

While everyone else is struggling economically because of the pandemic-related recession, the rich are largely recovered. Washington Post

More than 1,600 California residents have been evicted during the pandemic. CalMatters

New research shows that the effects of air pollution are far worse than we thought. Vox

Black people and Latinos are far more likely than white people to acknowledge that the coronavirus has threatened their health, their jobs and their finances. Los Angeles Times

Legislatures are asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to immediately start paying unemployment benefits to many of the more than 1 million workers whose claims have been stalled in the system. Los Angeles Times

Grocery workers across the country say their morale is low as they have lost all the benefits they gained at the beginning of the pandemic. Washington Post

No one is sure why remittances of money to Mexico have risen during the pandemic, but more money has been sent to Mexico than was sent at this time last year. Washington Post

Find out about the struggles of a typical person who has to now cope without the $600 unemployment aid NPR

Black workers are more likely to be severely impacted by the end of the $600 unemployment aid. New York Times

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