EAST PORTERVILLE, Tulare County (KPIX 5) — In the Bay Area, our drought has prompted many people to use less water. But in the town of East Porterville, about 75 miles southeast of Fresno, there is no water. For the people living there, day-to-day life has become a struggle.
“Forget about the lawn, forget about the car. You don’t realize how much you need the water until this happens,” East Porterville resident Mari Mejia told KPIX 5.
The dusty flatlands of Tulare County, where its 94 degrees as the sun goes down, and the ice cream man draws a crowd. But ice cream is no longer the most popular delivery in this neighborhood, it’s water.
“They fill it up once, sometimes twice a week. It depends on how much water we use,” said East Porterville resident Yolanda Serrato.
“This water tank, believe it or not, it’s like I just won the lottery,” Mejia said.
Most homes here depend on shallow, private wells, and one by one, they are going dry. That means the only drinking water comes in donated bottles. For everything else, the county is delivering and filling storage tanks for household use.
“This is 2014. This is what we do,” Mejia said.
That means each round of dishes, every load of laundry is from the tank.
“I don’t know how long we can go with this,” Serrato said.
Not to mention every flush of the toilet, and every single bath. “It’s a bucket for each girl, and that’s what we manage every day with,” Mejia said.
And every time another well runs dry, another tank appears. “Two hundred families without water in their houses, 200,” Serrato said.
The truth is, no one knows exactly how many families have been affected.
“Folks have kind of been a little scared to provide information. They’re fearful that the county may take their children through child welfare services,” said Denise England of Tulare County Administration.
In other words – even the neighbors themselves are worried that lack of water will create unsafe living conditions.
“We will not be removing children. We are also not out red-tagging homes because we don’t want to create a population where folks are homeless,” England said.
“My husband’s job is here. My son and daughter’s jobs are here. Where are we going to go?” Serrato said.
Nowhere to go and no relief in sight as three years of drought takes an entire community back in time.
“You know, you take for granted what you have. When you have the running water inside, you never believe you’re going to be living out of a water tank,” Mejia said.
“We’re hoping for the rain. Maybe the rain will help us. But I don’t know when that’s gonna happen,” Serrato said.
The county has declared an emergency in that neighborhood, which brings in state money to help with the water deliveries. Other solutions, like expanding a utility network, would take quite some time.