Gonzlo Martinez

 Gonzlo Martinez, an East Porterville resident, stands in front of a 2,500-gallon water tank provided by Tulare County Friday. The tank, he said, has about 500 gallons of water left and he isn't sure when it will be refilled.

County looking for other water sources

Tulare County’s Household Tank program, which has delivered and installed 31 tanks holding 2,500 gallons of water each in East Porterville, has stopped installing the new tanks until a new water source can be acquired.

The decision came after the Porterville City Council voted during Tuesday’s council meeting not to sell water to the county to fill the 2,500-gallon tanks. The county is still filling the 31 tanks that have been distributed.

City officials said they were uncomfortable committing to selling such a large amount of water, an estimate of two million gallons per month, without a guaranteed water source. The residents of the city must come first, said council members. County officials have promised a new well for the city and have been working with the state to acquire the $1.6 million to provide the well. But the county has not yet provided the written agreement, which the city requested before final approval.

The residents in East Porterville who have seen their private water wells go dry and who have not yet received a new 2,500-gallon water tank will have to wait, at least for the time being, until the county can find a new water source.

Andrew Lockman, manager of the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services, said there are 31 new 2,500-gallon tanks installed in the area currently, but without a close and less expensive water source, it isn’t feasible to set up more tanks to fill with water.

Elva Beltran, director of the Porterville Area Coordinating Council (PACC), said Friday she knows of 12 families whose tanks have not been filled since they were installed. The tanks are scheduled to be refilled about every three weeks.

“If we had water sources, it wouldn’t be a problem,” Lockman said. “If I could get water from the City of Porterville, I could have everyone’s tank filled in two days.”

Gonzlo Martinez lives on East River Street. His tank is low with about 500 gallons left, he said, and it was filled about 15 days ago. He also had a 300-gallon tank provided by PACC which his wife purchased for $30, but the smaller tank was removed once the larger tank was installed.

Sergio Frias also lives on East River Street and was without water for about a week after his 2,500-gallon tank became empty. The tank was filled Wednesday.

“They only gave me about 1,000 gallons,” Frias said. “Just enough to get us by. I was happy with that.” There are six members living in the Frias household.

“We have more places going out of water,” said Donna Johnson, a local resident and volunteer. Johnson has been dubbed “Water Warrior” and “Water Angel” by the community and the media for her continuous efforts to help those in the area whose wells have gone dry. “We had five more houses’ wells go dry” this week, she said.

“We don’t have the ability to grow at the moment,” Lockman said. “That [water delivery] vendor is overextended as it is.”

Lockman said the problem is finding a source to provide the water. The household tank program is provided for the entire county and while East Porterville has the most residents without water, other areas are in need of the tanks as well. So far, Lockman said they have been able to find water sources for other parts of the county, but finding one that is affordable and available for the East Side is much more difficult. Some sources, he said, will not sell the water to be delivered as far as Porterville.

Right now there is only one vendor delivering to East Porterville and the vendor only has a 3,500-gallon water truck and is coming out of Visalia and Tulare. The truck can only fill about one-and-a-half tanks each trip, and it is about a three-hour round trip. Lockman said the vendor takes about three trips a day to the Porterville area, which means approximately 10-14 tanks filled a week.

To help provide water for as many as possible, Lockman said the vendor is not topping off all of the tanks.

“So you see where the challenge is,” Lockman said.

There is a lot of confusion in the community about where the responsibility lies when it comes to residents in East Porterville without water. In reality, neither the city nor the county has any legal responsibility to provide water for that area. East Porterville is under county jurisdiction, and the city does not have any rights to taxes or legal obligations for that area. The county, like most counties, does not usually provide municipal services such as water and sewer to the residents.

Yet, the city is still delivering water to residents with the 300-gallon tanks provided by PACC, and the county is still running the free portable showers, the bottled water program and the household tank program.

“This is not something that’s ever been done before,” Lockman said of the tank program. “It’s never been considered before because private wells are private responsibility.”

But, city and county officials agree, this is a humanitarian effort and both local governments have been trying to find a way to provide mutual aide to the East Side.

Johnson continues to provide bottled water and other necessities to residents, but said she needs help.

“I need volunteers. Just come out and help me lift,” she said. Johnson said she receives plenty of bottled water donations, but needs help lifting the cases of water and delivering them to others. Johnson said she’s also in need of 45-gallon trash cans which many residents use to store water in.

Anyone interested in volunteering or donating can contact Johnson at 756-0792.

As for the county household tank program, while no more tanks are being installed, the county will continue to fill the tanks already in place and continue to look for another water source. Lockman said there might be another usable water source as early as May 19, if all of the parties involved are in agreement.

As summer approaches, it is expected more people will report their wells going dry. Johnson said she is “gravely concerned” about the residents.

“It’s bad,” she said. “It’s really bad.”

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