One side of a CA desert community lacks clean drinking water. The other is building a surfing resort

In the California town called Thermal, full-time residents are mostly Latino and undocumented, and many live in trailers off dirt roads. They work on farms and in luxury resorts just a few miles away. Photo courtesy of ProPublica.

Poorer neighborhoods are, on average, four degrees hotter than wealthier neighborhoods in the same town. That’s according to researchers at UC Davis who studied 20 urban areas across the Southwest. In California, that number is closer to seven degrees. One reason: Wealthier neighborhoods usually have more trees (and more shade), plus less paved surfaces. 

At the eastern end of the Coachella Valley, a town called Thermal has largely Latino and undocumented full-time residents. Many live in trailers off dirt roads, with contaminated water and barely functioning electricity. They work on farms and in luxury resorts just a few miles away, helping sustain a desert playground for wealthy vacation homeowners with perfectly paved roads, ice-cold air conditioning, and green lawns.

ProPublica reporter Elizabeth Weil recently spent time in Thermal to  explore this dichotomy and how the city’s residents are fighting for help.

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