Hundreds of California Households Struggle With No Water

by Mike O'Sullivan

October 01, 2014

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California is undergoing its third year of severe drought, and the water shortage is affecting farms, cities, and small communities. The drought has left hundreds of households in the state's usually fertile Central Valley without water.

The Porterville Area Coordinating Council provides food and other help to needy families.

Today the need is water in a dusty neighborhood set among farm fields. Some have gone unplanted for lack of water. A man pulls up to the charity's headquarters in an old food-packing house, his pickup truck loaded with plastic barrels. A volunteer fills them from the local water main.

Across the road, cars and vans are being loaded with cases of drinking water.

Debbie Martinez lives on a ranch and is not connected to the town's water system. She has a water well but says it's dry.

Yes, it's been three years. My neighbor has given me water, but their wells are going dry too," said Martinez.

California's system of aqueducts carries water to cities and small towns. But for some people in this unincorporated section of Tulare County, a lowered underground water table has left shallow wells with little or no water.

Council volunteer Fred Beltran says more than 300 households in this neighborhood are affected.

And these are all individual wells that are drying up or they're pumping poor quality of water, which is either sand, dirt or high nitrates," said Beltran.

California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed bills to regulate ground water to prevent shortages, and he authorized delivery of emergency drinking water for residents without it.

Tulare County water analyst Denise England says people need clean water for drinking and cooking.

But the bigger challenge we're facing now is what we're calling sanitation water, so water that's not potable, that's not drinkable, but you can take a shower with it or do you dishes with it or bathe," said England.

Elva Beltran, director of the Porterville Area Coordinating Council, says her charity has provided large outdoor water tanks for dozens of residents.

We have 54 tanks right now," she said.

The Council gets funds from residents and churches.

One resident drops by to donate $50.

Much of the work today involves giving water to people like Michael Burrough.

I don't know what else to do," he said. "All the water we can get is from the sources like right here. Other than that, I have to buy water and I don't really have the extra money to buy cases of water."

Officials say that getting water to these families is a priority, but for now, these people rely on their neighbors, local government and private charities to get the water they need to survive.