East Porterville residents whose wells have ran dry from years of drought now have the option to connect to the City of Porterville’s water system for free.
State Department of Water Resources, local officials and volunteers gathered at Granite Hills High School the evening of Feb. 22 to explain the connection, whose fees can reach up to $10,000. State and local grants total about $20 million to make those connections for the area.
Nearly 200 residents showed up to the informational meeting, which was held in English and Spanish.
Approximately 10 miles of distribution pipes were installed late last year to include East Porterville to the main water system. The nearby Tule River and snow melt have helped replenish water wells in the past, but the drought has taken heavily impacted further replenishment.
Tulare and Santa Bárbara counties are considered ground zero for California’s historic five-year drought.
“I took a shower and there’s a difference between having the tank; the water’s not the same. Having that is a dream come true. It was like a baby taking his new toy. It’s great to have clean water, drinking water, dependable. Take advantage of this,” said Tómas García, an East Porterville resident since the mid-1940s, through a public address system in the school cafeteria.
García, a married father with two children, lost most of the water pressure to his home two years ago. Like many East Porterville residents, he had a large tank placed on his property and filled twice weekly by county officials with non-potable water. Providing this service to all residents without running water in their homes exceeds $650,000 a month.
For several years volunteers at water stations in the community have been handing out cases of bottled drinking water to residents.
Mobile public showers and bathrooms, normally used in emergency situations by firefighters, were set up on the parking lot of Iglesia Immanuel in East Porterville more than a year ago. The service is used daily. Some Porterville high schools allow students to shower in locker rooms before school.
“We’ve had residents in Tulare County beg us not to lift the drought restriction because they are very much in a drought. We’ve got folks going to a church or a public building for a shower because they don’t have running water in their house; that is the definition of a drought,” said George Kostyrko, a director in the Office of Public Affairs at the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento, who was at the meeting.
Fred Beltrán and his wife Elva and their son began water deliveries to neighbors in 2014 through their non-profit organization Porterville Area Coordinating Council (PACC).
Fellow resident Donna Johnson, in a separate venture, delivered water to neighbors and received national and international acclaim that sparked thousands of dollars in donations.
From water year 2012 through 2016, according to a press release by the Department of Water Resources, the Tulare Basin received a mere 56 percent of its annual rainfall over the past 50 years.
“At one time we had 70 tanks out there to fill between me and my son, then the city started helping us out,” said Fred Beltrán, a retired engineer for the city, who moved to the area in 1965. “Some residents are hesitant, but I’ll tell them even your pump can go out. There’s different reasons, but some people just don’t want government to tell them what to do. In East Porterville this water system should have come in 40 years ago.”
According to Beltrán, septic tanks were added decades ago, but that water connectivity was not established.
“You have septic tanks that are 10-feet deep and wells that are 25-feet deep. What do you expect?” he said, “You’re going to get contamination. The less water that comes in, the higher the contamination level because there’s no more dilusion.”
Beltrán is advocating residents to connect, saying “It doesn’t cost anything. All your shopping, your tax dollars are going to the city already, so what’s the big deal about going into the city?”
There are three steps entailed to registering with the city. The Phase 1 deadline was last Saturday (Feb. 25), but residents can register for Phase 2 at Porterville City Hall or at the Drought Resource Center (185 S. Leggett). Merely registering at City Hall is step one.
Step two is signing an Extraterritorial Service Agreement (ESA) at a specified registering location. Residents must bring identification and proof of ownership. After receiving a confirmation of your registration by mail, residents must then go to Porterville City Hall and open a utility account (must have identification).
Phase 1 included 12 lines (pipes), one well and a booster pump. Approximately 290 households of the approximate 320 households that could be reached have accepted connectivity. As of the Feb. 22 meeting, the well had been on-line for two days.
Phase 2 could have up to three wells and can supply up to 800 properties. Approximately 500 applications have been received thus far. Completion for Phase 2 is scheduled for mid 2017.
The deadline to register for Phase 2 is March 31. It starts at Porterville City Hall (291 N. Main St.). For details call (559) 782-7499.
“If you choose to connect in the future, it will be at your own cost,” announced Ryan Jensen of the Community Water Center. “As of right now, there are still about 200 properties that have not responded at all. We’ll be working on knocking on those doors. We want to make sure everyone knows about the project.”
Jensen stressed that once the ESA is signed and registered with the county, residents are locked in. Some residents have come forward saying their well has recuperated from drought, but have already registered an ESA.
New account holders can expect to pay at least $18 per month for water. The charge is dependent on how much water is used. The City of Porterville chlorinates its water supply. Reports on nitrates have been found on numerous private wells.