California community suffers as wells dry up in drought

Thu Oct 23, 2014 12:18pm EDT
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By Lucy Nicholson

East Porterville Calif. (Reuters) - In one of the towns hardest hit by California's drought, the only way some residents can get water to flush the toilet is to drive to the fire station, hand-pump water into barrels and take it back home.

The trip has become a regular ritual for East Porterville residents Macario Beltran, 41, and his daughters, who on a recent evening pumped the water into containers in the bed of his old pickup truck to be used for bathing, dish washing and flushing.

As if to emphasize the arid conditions that led them there, an emergency broadcast warned of a brewing dust storm.

The state's three-year drought comes into sharp focus in Tulare County, the dairy and citrus heart of the state’s vast agricultural belt, where more than 500 wells have dried up.

Donna Johnson's tap went dry in June. Since then she's been trying to help neighbors connect with help from the county and the state. She began making door-to-door deliveries of water donated by charities and such supplies as hand sanitizer – often in withering 100-degree heat.

“I saw all these people who couldn’t take a shower: kids, pregnant women,” the 72-year-old said.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who declared a state drought emergency in January, signed an executive order last month to buy drinking water for residents with dry wells. He also signed bills to regulate groundwater.

Andrew Lockman, manager at the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services, said it could be years before the groundwater management plan yields results.   Continued...

Pastor Frankie Olmedo, 56, (L) who volunteers four hours a day to hand out water, fills up a container for Luis Bocanegra, 35, in Porterville, California October 14, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson