East Porterville, population 7,000, is a small town in California's Central Valley. Like many other rural communities in Tulare County, residents of East Porterville have been hit particularly hard by California's continuing drought. Over 500 Tulare County residents have no access to running water. Instead, these families must rely on bottled water or water transported by buckets for drinking, bathing, and cleaning. Water in the Tulare County area is typically accessed through private wells, but many of the wells have dried out as a result of the drought. Moreover, the land is unincorporated and thus is not part of a municipal water system that can readily supply adequate water to households.
As their running water began to disappear, residents of East Porterville and neighboring towns contacted various state and county authorities, only to discover that no public agency could assist them with their dwindling water supply. And although California has over $600 billion in drought-relief funds, most of it comes from bonds that cannot be allocated to individuals. Language barriers are further obstacles to providing Tulare County residents with an adequate water supply. The area has a high concentration of Mexican immigrants -- indeed, 62% of residents in Tulare County (and 73% in East Porterville, specifically) are Hispanic.
In August, after months of experiencing a water shortage, Tulare County placed a 5,000 gallon water tank in front of one of its fire stations for use by county residents. Many families, especially those in East Porterville, now rely on the tank for their water supply. Although a sign in front of the tank specifically advises that the water should not be used for drinking, local authorities believe that many residents in fact drink the tank water. One member of the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services noted that "We can’t offer anyone a long-term solution right now. There is a massive gap between need and resources to deal with it."
As a result of the inadequate support received from the county officials and other authorities, the community has been forced to come up with creative solutions to their water problem. Some families in Tulare County now rely on water tanks distributed by a local charity for their water supply. Moreover, one local high school has opened its doors before school hours to allow students to take showers. Donna Johnson, a resident of East Porterville, buys water with money out of her own pocket and distributes it by the gallon to families in need, many of whom are non-English-speaking. As county officials continue to search for long-term solutions to the water problem, it is heartening that individuals and groups within this rural community have taken it upon themselves to aid each other.
For more information on the California drought and the resulting competition over water between urban communities and agricultural suppliers, click here.