THERMAL, Calif. — Each time Cecilia Cruz prepares food for her family, instead of turning on the faucet, she reaches for a jug of bottled water.

In Spanish, she explained how her family uses nine gallons a day for cooking, washing food and showering. She uses another two gallons to bathe her 10-month-old daughter, Daleyda.

Cruz lives in the Oasis Mobile Home Park in the eastern Coachella Valley, along with her four children and husband. They moved in 17 years ago to work in agriculture, but in 2019, she got a notice that it wasn’t safe to drink the water because it was contaminated with arsenic. She has been relying on bottled water ever since.

Cruz is one of roughly 1,100 residents in the 60-acre park. Over the years, she says she’s experienced stomachaches and hair loss, and is worried it’s because of the water coming out of the tap.

Since 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited the park three times for high levels of arsenic in the water, which the agency says increases the chances of lung, bladder and skin cancers and can lead to heart disease, diabetes and neurological damage.

While the water quality has improved in recent months and is testing at acceptable levels, the EPA ordered the park to provide bottled water to residents until lab tests are consistent for one year. The water system draws from groundwater that has naturally occurring arsenic.

EPA Regional Director Martha Guzman says the yearslong effort to provide clean water is part of a much bigger problem: lack of equal access.

“This is an issue of generational disinvestment and poor people in tribal communities and the eastern Coachella Valley is living a reality that is generations of causation,” said Guzman. “Why is it that there is a lack of infrastructure from the regional water provider that provides water and sewer throughout this entire region? That question is not something that was from a year or two years ago. That’s a generational thing.”

Neither the attorney representing the current administrator of the park, Sophia Clark — who took over after her father Scott Lawson died last year — or Riverside County Supervisor Manuel Perez, who represents the area, responded to multiple requests from Spectrum News 1 for an interview.

County officials have already relocated 45 families as part of a longterm solution, according to Greg Rodriguez with Riverside County Housing and Workforce Solutions. He also says last summer, the state granted $30 million to relocate families but that will take time because he says there are few affordable housing options in the eastern part of the valley, which also lacks water and sewer infrastructure for new builds.

“We’ve got hundreds of units that are in the pipeline that will be developed. To be honest, you’re looking at a four- to five-year timeline because of just the time it takes to actually get those projects up and running."

Rodriguez noted that jurisdictional issues have complicated matters. Most of the park sits on Torres Martinez tribal land, which is not under county jurisdiction, and the remaining portion of the park is on “fee land,” which is privately owned.

As residents are relocated, new tenants keep moving in with no enforcement.

“With tribal sovereignty and all that, we want to respect that at all levels," said Rodriguez. "We do that as a county on a nonstop basis, and it’s very difficult for us to go and enforce when it’s not our land."

It was only at the end of August that county, tribal leaders and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs agreed in principle to work towards shutting down the park in five years and relocate residents.

Omar Gastelum with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability nonprofit helps advocate for the residents. He says he grew up in a mobile home park nearby and is familiar with the challenging living conditions facing Oasis. He says the verbal agreement between the different agencies is a big step, given that the park has been open for over 30 years and residents were hesitant to speak out about the water issues.

“Since a lot of the residents that live here are low-income, undocumented, in very vulnerable positions, a lot of them don’t really have the courage to speak up against this landlord,” he said.

Gastelum added that although the water system is testing at acceptable levels of arsenic, residents are concerned the water pipes could be laced with arsenic.

Cruz says she ultimately wants to relocate with her family, but she’s not sure where they would go because they can’t afford rents elsewhere. She is worried that one day, if she’s not paying attention, her youngest daughter may drink the tap water, and it could make her sick.