East Porterville residents excited
News that the state of California is going to pay to install a water system for East Porterville is being welcomed cautiously by residents who have been waiting for permanent relief.
Last week, city and county leaders said the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has agreed to design and construct a project to hook up most of the residents in East Porterville to a water system that will permanently provide a safe and clean flow of water into homes.
East Porterville has been the face of the drought. A rural area not hooked up to any water system, some residents of that area due east of the City of Porterville have been without running water in their homes for more than three years. What began as a handful of homes reporting their wells had gone dry two years ago, has grown to approximately 1,000 residents.
The wait will continue, but now there appears to be a permanent fix.
“I think it’s finally happening,” said Donna Johnson, a resident of East Porterville who took it upon herself to begin helping neighbors by distributing bottles of water in the summer of 2014. She was honored as the 2015 California Volunteer of the Year for her efforts.
“I’m just so excited,” she said, adding, “It just never should have gone this long.”
That sentiment as to how long it has taken to come up with the permanent fix was expressed by many.
“Yeah, it’s great. It’s about a year later than needed,” said Fred Beltran with the Porterville Area Coordinating Council (PACC). He has been advocating for a permanent solution for more than a year.
Until about a month ago, the focus had been on temporary fixes for East Porterville and other residents whose wells have gone dry. More than 250 large tanks have been placed in the front yards of homes with those tanks being filled with water. Large bottles of drinking water are also being delivered to homes. Portable showers were put up at the Iglesias Emmanuel Church on Leggett Street, and Johnson and the PACC continue to hand out cases of bottled water to residents who were still falling through the cracks.
According to Porterville City Manager John Lollis, the state is proposing to drill at least two new wells in the city, with the city then supplying the water for East Porterville. The state has already drilled one new well, but it has yet to be connected to the city. Lollis pointed out there just isn’t the quality or quantity of water in East Porterville to construct a system there.
The state is already in the process of engineering the system and last week flew an airplane over the area, mapping it out.
“It’s very fast,” Denise England, water resources program manager for Tulare County, said of the timeline. Lollis said officials hope to have the details worked out by June when a public meeting will be held to update residents on the plan. Construction could begin by the end of this year.
“I think we’re still a long ways off,” Beltran said of the plan, but agreed he was excited a permanent solution was definitely in the works. “This was the ultimate goal, to get a system out there,” he said.
Yolanda Frausto, who has a child with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and progressively limits the ability to breathe, has been waiting for relief for a long time.
“Honestly, I won’t believe it until I see it. Hopefully, it’s going to happen,” she said.
She needs clean water for her son and has been getting by with bottled water and one of the large tanks.
“The final line is we have water. Nobody knows what it’s like not to have water until you don’t have water. It’s going to be a tremendous relief,” she said of finally having water, especially safe water, flowing into her home.
The Rev. Ramon Hernandez of Iglesias Emmanuel Church called it the “best news I’ve heard in a while,” when told of the state’s plans.
“I’ve been praying for a while. I’m happy for the community and all the families in desperate need,” he said.
Rev. Hernandez led a traveling prayer group this past summer praying for rain and his church on South Leggett Street has become drought central for people seeking assistance. That is where the showers are located and where bottled water is handed out.
Another person pleased to get the news is Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman. East Porterville is a heavily populated area with a lot of dry grass and bushes, making it a big fire concern. The water system will mean more fire hydrants.
“That is absolutely better — water is better,” said Norman, adding the installation of a water system will lower fire insurance rates in the area.
Beltran and Johnson said many residents are confused.
“They’re confused because of lot of them don’t understand,” Johnson said.
Beltran said they are getting feedback and most residents are excited. “A lot of them are not properly informed,” he added.
Johnson said one person told her she had heard the state was closing East Porterville and everyone would have to move, which is not correct.
Beltran has been working with the Community Water Center out of Visalia. A meeting for the community is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Doyle Elementary School, and a representative of the state Department of Water Resources is expected to attend, .
As a way of keeping people informed and organized, a local organization — East Porterville Residents for Water Justice — has been formed, Beltran said.