For three years, ever since she learned her water was contaminated with arsenic, Arlene Clark has been buying bottled water by the case from the supermarket.
The 71-year-old retired cashier can't lift heavy loads anymore, so whenever possible she gets her son to help haul it into her mobile home at Sequoia Gardens on the western edge of Santa Rosa.
But that burden may soon be lifted if the 191-unit mobile home park on Fulton Road is annexed into the City of Santa Rosa and hooked up to clean city water.
"I'll just be happy to go to my faucet and not have to open a bottle of water," Clark said.
The City Council last week signed off on the annexation by approving future zoning for property, the last step before a final decision on annexation is made by Sonoma Local Agency Formation Commission.
The move is the latest in a five-year-long effort to extend city water to more than 600 mostly low-income residents on four properties just outside city limits whose drinking water no longer complies with cleaner state standards passed in 2008.
For decades, the state and federal limit, known as the maximum contaminant level, for arsenic in drinking water was 50 parts per billion. Then in 2001, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tightened the regulations by dropping the standard to 10 parts per billion, citing studies linking long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water to cancer and other diseases.
The EPA estimated that the new rule would affect mostly smaller water systems serving 11 million people across the country.
The state Department of Health followed EPA's lead and in 2008 adopted the lower standard for arsenic, a naturally occurring element. It considered an even lower standard but concluded that the costs of compliance would be too high.
The state estimated the 10 parts per billion standard would affect 267 water systems around the state and cost $187million per year in treatment and other compliance costs.
Eighteen water systems that exceeded the new standard for arsenic were identified in Sonoma County. Four are located just outside Santa Rosa city limits.
Sequoia Gardens is by far the largest. It was developed in the early 1970s on nearly 30 acres just west of Fulton Road at the West College Avenue intersection. The over-55 community has about 300 residents in 191-mobile homes. The arsenic levels from its well are 14 parts per billion, according to the state, though the property manager says it has recently dropped to 10.4 parts per billion.
Sequoia Gardens needs to be annexed to the city because of a policy requiring annexation for properties that are adjacent to city limits and request city utilities.
The other three properties are located below Santa Rosa's southern city limit. They don't need to be annexed to the city because they are located in areas that allow hook-up to city utilities without annexation under certain conditions.
Moorland Avenue Apartments are located next to Highway 101 just south where Moorland meets Corby Avenue. About 64 people live in 16 apartments. Their water has the highest average concentration of arsenic of all four: 27 parts per billion.
Rancho Santa Rosa Mobile Home Park is located between Santa Rosa Avenue and Highway 101 near East Robles Avenue. About 175 people live in 80 units served by a well with average arsenic levels of 15 parts per billion.