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California farm town lurches from no water to polluted water

By Daniel Trotta

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6/6
California farm town lurches from no water to polluted water
© Reuters. Tiffany Copley, 40, looks at her garden that died last summer during the period when the water pump for the community went dry in Teviston, California, U.S., October 22, 2021. Picture taken on October 22, 2021. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

2/6

By Daniel Trotta

TEVISTON, Calif. (Reuters) – The San Joaquin Valley farm town of Teviston has two wells. One went dry and the other is contaminated.

The one functioning well failed just at the start of summer, depriving the hot and dusty hamlet of running water for weeks. With temperatures routinely soaring above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), farm workers bathed with buckets after laboring in the nearby vineyards and almond orchards.

Even as officials restored a modicum of pressure with trucked-in water, and after the well was repaired, the hardships have endured. Teviston’s 400 to 700 people – figures fluctuate with the agricultural season – have received bottled drinking water since the well failed in June.

But for years, probably decades, the water coming from Teviston taps has been laced with the carcinogen 1,2,3-Trichloropropane, or 1,2,3-TCP, the legacy of pesticides.

The Western U.S. drought, the most severe in 125 years of record-keeping, is exacting a further toll on communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley, where people living on the edge of farmland gather many of the crops but little of the largesse from California’s $50 billion agricultural industry.

For Esperanza Guerrero, 35, a Mexican immigrant and homemaker whose husband works at a dairy farm, the poor water quality poses additional dangers for her 16-year-old daughter, who can drink only purified water because of a gastrointestinal ailment.

“It’s very stressful as a mother to know that if for any reason she should wash a piece of fruit (with tap water) and eat it, she’s going down,” Guerrero said while picking up bottled water from the community depot.

Teviston, devoid of any retail or commercial business, won a $3 million settlement in June from pesticide producers Dow Chemical Company and Shell (LON:) Oil Company and distributors that will pay for a water treatment plant.

Dow declined to comment on Teviston, but said there was “no merit” to allegations in similar lawsuits brought by other local jurisdictions in the San Joaquin Valley.

“The plaintiffs’ claims in these cases are based on a California water quality standard that went into effect in 2018, several decades after the product formulations in question were discontinued. To the extent TCP was present in past product formulations, it would have been at levels so low as to pose no environmental risk,” the company said in a statement.

Shell declined to comment on active litigation.

The settlement will help Teviston resolve the dilemma of having to choose between safe or affordable water, said Todd Robins, an attorney with San Francisco-based Robins Borghei LLP who has represented other towns like Teviston in similar lawsuits.

The arid, forbidding land of the San Joaquin Valley has been transformed into one of the most fertile plains in the world by farmers, politicians and engineers who changed the course of mighty rivers and brought water hundreds of miles to a valley so broad and flat that in most directions the fields meet sky.

The drought has made both surface and ground water scarce.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates canals moving surface water from Northern California further south, has cut allotments to farmers this year: first to a mere 5% of normal, then down to zero.

That increased demand on the aquifers. Growers who operate their own wells are lowering the water table for neighboring towns like Teviston that depend on well water.

Outside the valley, many environmentalists criticize growers. The people of Teviston don’t paint them as the enemy.

“We need the farms. Without the farms, we don’t have any work,” said Frank Galaviz, a director on the town council who has emerged as Teviston’s leading water advocate.

THE ENEMY BELOW

Historically, the farms have faced another nemesis besides drought.

Beneath the ground, tiny worms called nematodes infest roots. For decades, through the 1980s, growers injected their soil with the since-discontinued pesticides Telone, made by Dow, and D-D, made by Shell, according to Robins, who has pieced together the history of 1,2,3-TCP contamination through about 70 lawsuits against both companies.

By the 1990s health officials established that TCP was carcinogenic and would linger in the water table for a lifetime unless removed by filtration. California’s TCP problem is concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley, state data show.

Telone and D-D were essentially a byproduct of other chemical processes that would have been disposed of were it not found to be an effective pesticide, enabling the companies to offload the byproduct by selling it to farmers, Robins said.

“It’s a dirty secret,” Robins said, adding that Dow’s reformulated Telone II became more effective once TCP and other impurities were removed.

While Teviston awaits a treatment plant, its TCP levels remain above safe levels. In May, testing showed the TCP level was nearly three times the maximum acceptable level, and in March it was more than seven times the limit, according to the state’s Safe Drinking Water Information System. In September, Teviston showed a negligible amount, an outlier that experts said could be skewed by the new well or the extreme drought.

Teviston’s marginalization dates back nearly a century, when Black workers arrived to work white-owned cotton farms. While the farmers had sought the Black workers, the workers were unwelcome in white towns, and they formed a tent city that became Teviston. Over the years the workforce became immigrant Mexican, another politically disadvantaged class, and white family farms were supplanted by corporations operating ever larger tracts of factory farms.      

Dorris Brooks, an African American woman who lives at the end of Teviston’s water line, said past efforts to improve well water have only resulted in temporary relief.

“You can see there’s actually sludge that comes out of the tap,” Brooks said.

Brooks, who moved to Teviston as an adult 43 years ago, questioned whether the settlement was just.

“That company got away with for messing up the water and the people’s lives,” Brooks said. “There’s sick people here.”

Stock Markets

Stats had a positive effect on the European stock market. European growth stocks

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european growth stocks

West European stock indexes closed Wednesday’s trading with a confident growth. Traders evaluated the fresh batch of statistics and bought European growth stocks.

What influenced European stocks to high growth?

GDP volume in France rose 0.2% in the third quarter compared to the previous three months, final data from the national statistics institute Insee showed. The final data coincided with a preliminary estimate. Analysts, on average, had not expected a revision, according to a Trading Economics survey. GDP growth slowed from a 0.5% rebound in the second quarter.

Consumer prices in France, harmonized with European Union standards, rose 7.1% year-over-year in November. Insee also reported. The November rate of increase in consumer prices coincided with that of October, and analysts polled by Trading Economics expected inflation to remain at the same level.

Consumer spending in the country collapsed by 2.8% in October compared with the previous month. Analysts polled by Bloomberg expected a more moderate decline of 1 percent. The consensus forecast of experts polled by Trading Economics envisioned a 0.6% decline. The decrease in consumer spending was the maximum since April 2021.

The number of unemployed in Germany increased by 17 thousand in November, according to the Federal Employment Agency of Germany. The rise in the index was marked at the end of the sixth month in a row. Experts interviewed by Bloomberg agency, on average, predicted an increase of 13.5 thousand. Respondents to Trading Economics expected an increase of 13 thousand.

Additional positives for investors in European markets on Wednesday were messages about easing of coronavirus restrictions in a lot of cities in China. Note that Amazon’s stock price is also rising if you are interested in the U.S. stock market.

Earlier, we reported that U.S. stock indices were up 2.2-4.4%.

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Stock Markets

U.S. stock indices today rose 2.2-4.4%

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U.S. stock indices today

The U.S. stock indices today closed the trading on Wednesday with the confident growth due to the statements of the Federal Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell, who confirmed that the U.S. Central Bank could slow down the basic rate rise as early as in December.

Judging by the quotations of futures on the level of the prime rate, U.S. stock market indices expect the Federal Reserve to raise it by 50 basis points (bps) in December – to 4.25-4.5%. The U.S. Central Bank has increased the rate by 75 bps at each of the previous four meetings. Against this background, the current stock price of Facebook also rose.

The report by the industry organization ADP, published on Wednesday, showed a slowdown in job growth in the U.S. private sector. Their number increased by 127,000 in November, the lowest rate since January, said the ADP. Analysts polled by The Wall Street Journal on average had forecast job growth of 190,000 after a jump of 239,000 in October.

Data from the U.S. Commerce Department, also released Nov. 30, showed higher-than-reported growth in the U.S. economy in the third quarter. U.S. GDP grew at an annualized rate of 2.9% in the July-September quarter, rather than the previously reported 2.6%. Experts polled by Trading Economics had expected an average revision of 2.7%.

Also, the Federal Reserve released its regional Beige Book survey Wednesday, showing that economic activity in the United States was little changed in the fall.

Federal Reserve banks in five counties reported a weak increase in activity in October and November, while the other seven reported a stable or slightly declining economy.

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average index was up 737.24 points (2.18%) at 34589.77 as of Wednesday’s market close.

  • Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 122.48 points (3.09%) to 4,080.11 points.

  • The Nasdaq Composite added 484.22 points (4.41%) to 1,468.

All three U.S. stock market indices closed November, with the Dow Jones gaining 5.3%; the S&P 500 gaining 4.6%, and the Nasdaq Composite gaining 3.3%.

Earlier we reported that Main European stock indices were rising during trading.

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Stock Markets

Main European stock indices rise in trading

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best european stock indices

Main European stock indices are rising during trading on Thursday. The Stoxx Europe 600 composite index of the largest companies in the region rose 0.58% to 442.60 points. German DAX is up 0.34%, British FTSE 100 is up 0.15%, French CAC 40 is up 0.01%, Italian FTSE MIB is up 0.47% and Spanish IBEX 35 is up 0.45%.

What affected the best European stock indices?

During a speech at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday, Powell reiterated that the Fed could slow the rise in the prime rate as early as December. “The time to moderate the pace of rate hikes may come as early as the next meeting,” Powell said. 

The Fed chair, meanwhile, tried to balance those words with “hawkish” signals. Market Watch notes. He said that the U.S. Central Bank will have to raise the rate higher than could be expected a few months ago. Moreover, Powell made it clear that the issue of rate cuts is irrelevant at the moment. By the way, his words influenced the growth of the current stock price of the NASDAQ-100

Another Fed official, Board of Governors member Lisa Cook said she believes the regulator needs to keep raising rates as inflation is still too high. “We’ve started to get more favorable inflation data. But I would be cautious about drawing big conclusions on just one month’s worth of data,” Cook said during a speech at the Detroit Economic Club.

Earlier, we reported on how European stock indexes were falling following Asian stock markets.

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