Drought is reality for many in Tulare County


California’s drought has reached historic proportions. Its effects are creeping ever closer to home, bringing it from happening mostly somewhere else  highlighted by a brown, parched landscape, dying foliage, and stories on the news — to a troublesome reality directly affecting Tulare County’s residents.

At Monday’s (Sept. 5) town meeting, Chief Joe Garcia, Tulare County Fire Department, said extreme drought is directly impacting Kaweah Country and surrounding communities. The exceptional dryness is having a significant impact in Tulare County, and the bad news is it’s getting worse. Several towns in Tulare County have wells that have gone or are going dry, including but not limited to Seville, Yettem, East Orosi, East Porterville, Springville, and Terra Bella.

In East Porterville, the nightmare has become grim reality.

“It is unknown how many private wells have gone dry,” Garcia said. “Over 800 wells have been reported, but we suspect that only one out of every six households actually reports.”

Residents fear that their houses may be “red flagged,” or that Child Protective Services may get involved if it is discovered that the household has no potable water. To help ease the strain on East Porterville residents, many of whom cannot afford to buy expensive bottled water, the fire department and other volunteers, like Lee Goldstein of Three Rivers and his fellow Visalia Rotarians, are getting involved.

“It was such a powerful experience,” Goldstein said of the act of bringing East Porterville families water. “Each person in a household was allotted two six-gallon cases of water to last them for an undetermined amount of weeks."

Unfortunately, unless those folks with dry wells can afford to truck in or purchase water, there is little else they can do at this time. Those wishing to dig a deeper well are out of luck.

“Well-digging outfits are backed up with service calls up to a year at this point,” Garcia said. “Currently, there is little choice for those without water.”

The State of California has provided grants to help with water access, however, there are tight restrictions on how the funds may be utilized, Chief Garcia said. The funds may be used for community systems or for those with contaminated private wells.

“For aid to be used for private wells, there has to be proof of contamination in the water supply before it dried up,” Garcia said. “Otherwise, the grants cannot be used to fund private water supply.”

The Friends of Tulare County, based in Visalia, is a nonprofit service organization stepping up to funnel donations toward providing water for Tulare County residents. For more information on Friends of Tulare County and how to donate, contact Katrina Carmichael at (559) 624-7384 or email kvcarmichael@tularehhsa.org.

So far, Three Rivers residents’ private water supplies have largely been spared. But as the drought’s effects hit closer to home, its severity has become more evident. While all await the hopefully water-logged winter months, it should still be cautioned that no one is too far out of reach for this drought, and water conservation is critical.

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