When the wells run dry: California drought forcing some families to live in …

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

AP PHOTOS: Neighbors fill buckets, pray for rain in drought.

July 2, 2015: Rancher Steve Drumright looks toward his cattle, grazing on a barren hillside in Tulare County, outside of Porterville, Calif. OKIEVILLE, Calif. (AP) — People living in this dusty neighborhood called Okieville at the heart of California’s Central Valley know the harsh reality of drought. Drumright’s herd is forced to search the parched Tulare County hills for the dwindling vegetation as California endures a fourth year of drought. (AP) TULARE, Calif. – Looking for water to flush his toilet, Tino Lozano pointed a garden hose at some buckets in the bare dirt of his yard. Miles of the nation’s most productive farms surround Okieville — a neighborhood of about 100 homes named for refugees who came west from Oklahoma during the 1930s Dust Bowl — but many residents come home at night after working in the fields and wonder if they’ll be able to take a shower or flush their toilet.

But it’s dramatically worse in places like Okieville, where wells have gone dry for many of the 100 modest homes that share cracked streets without sidewalks or streetlights in California’s Central Valley. Lozano, a 40-year-old disabled vet and family man, has worked with his neighbors to rig lines from house to house, sharing water from a well deep enough to hit the emptying aquifer below. These “Third-World-type conditions” are hidden from plain sight, says Andrew Lockman, of Tulare County’s Office of Emergency Services. “It’s not an earthquake or flood where you can drive down the street and see the devastation.” Okieville is quiet, dry and hot. Residents express pride in their town, and support the need for irrigation. “They need water for the cows,” said Okieville resident and tire salesman Gilbert Arredondo. “Without dairies we wouldn’t have jobs.

They produce cheese.” For 150 years, surface canals and underground aquifers turned semi-arid regions of California green, and even in drought, the state produces most of America’s fruit, vegetables and nuts. But the meager Sierra Nevada snowpack doesn’t replenish the rivers like it used to, and farmers are drilling ever-deeper wells to compensate for the plunge in surface water.

Unlike Lozano, who rents his home, Marquez was eligible as a homeowner to get a tank installed for washing and flushing, to be filled each Monday by a county truck, as well as bottled water for drinking and cooking through California’s $3.7 billion drought relief program, which includes $38 million for drinking water and tanks. As with other “Okieville” communities in California, the hundreds of thousands of Midwesterners who migrated west in the 1930s were mostly replaced by migrants from Mexico after the camps evolved into permanent communities. She’s still got family, she said, so “we consider ourselves lucky.” California became the last state in the West to regulate groundwater when Gov. But sustainable alternatives remain years away, and the groundwater supplying nearly 60 percent of the state’s needs in dry years is being used up like never before. Seeking a solution for problems in Okieville, 5 miles outside of Tulare, Maria Marquez welcomed Maria Herrera, an organizer for the nonprofit Self-Help Enterprises, who brought a team of engineers and a lawyer to address about 50 people gathered in her dirt yard. “We have a lot of important items to talk about tonight,” began Herrera.

As the night wore on, consensus seemed to grow around forming their own water district, and applying for state and federal grants to pay for two 500-foot deep wells costing about $2 million. Monthly water bills would be about $50, and everyone would get reliable water — at least until the surrounding farms dig deeper. “God, give us water so we don’t have to move,” the 4-year-old says, pressing her palms together. “God, please fill up our tank, so we don’t run out of water.”

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