Fire ignites in Central Valley town where wells went dry

It was anticipated and feared.

It finally happened on a brutally hot summer day: One of the communities in California with its polluted, erupting, and slumping wells completely dried up.

The state has a mandate to merge such water systems with nearby larger communities by 2024. But that’s not early enough for East Orosi, an unincorporated village of Tulare County in southeast Fresno. .

The water went off on Tuesday afternoon. A temporary fix allowed the water to flow sporadically on Wednesday.

At that time, a family lost their home because of a fire that they had no water to fight. Children spent a day scrambling for pets, and the cattle didn’t die. And in this community already dependent on bottled water, everyone knows the faucets could soon dry up again.

The San Joaquin Valley’s wells problems stem from a complex combination of infrastructure failure, pollution, and record-breaking dry conditions. The current drought, in its third year, is lowering the water table. The pumping of heavy groundwater by agriculture is making community wells more vulnerable and putting household water at risk.

According to state data, more than 4,400 home wells have run dry since 2015, including 975 dry wells last year and another 591 failing so far. Many wells have dried up in farming areas of the Central Valley, including those where more water is being extracted than rainfall can replenish.

In East Orosi, an almost all Latino community, Juan Zetina, 26, returned home from a day of peach and nectarine picking around 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon.

The community across the street was empty and a man was working on a burnt pump. No water for bathing. Everyone here knows not to drink nitrate-contaminated water from the tap.

Half an hour later, a small electric fire broke out on the roof of the house Zetina rented with her mother and sister.

“It’s very small. We could have taken it out,” he said.

But there was no water from the hydrant and the local firemen could not get water from the hydrant right across the street.

On Wednesday, the owner locked the gate to the burned house and Zetina was unable to enter the yard.

“My mother has plants that will die if not watered. This is all she has left. I have to go in there and try to get them back,” he said.

He spent the whole day looking for help. The Red Cross gave the family of three a check for $500.

“It’s my birthday,” he said quietly. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Perhaps the first person in the community to notice there was no water was 10-year-old Allison Guzman. She came home from soccer practice around 3pm and her dad asked her to give the chicken water.

The temperature outside is over 100 degrees in the shade.

Allison Guzman, 10, has Moon at his home in East Orosi.

Allison Guzman, 10, raised her dog Moon at her home in East Orosi on July 13. She worried for the safety of her pets when water in the community dried up on Tuesday.

(Diana Marcum / Los Angeles Times)

“I aimed the hose at the tree first to get the hot water out, but there was nothing,” she said.

“I was really scared right away for my animals: my dogs and the chickens and the goat. They can die without water.”

She uses the water in her brother’s paddled swimming pool for the goats.

A family neighbor drove to their gym in a nearby city and brought back buckets of water for the pets.

The family went to the dollar store in town to buy more buckets. When they returned, they found the house in the corner on fire.

Allison and other neighborhood kids watched as firefighters from a larger town eventually put out the blaze with buckets of water.

She goes home and tells her parents that she thinks they need to pack and get things ready for an emergency.

“I’m not sure the water is still there,” she said. “And we could have a fire.”

Carmen Moreno, chairman of the local water council, has been involved in trying to find a solution for decades. But it’s a small community, and months and years will pass without a quorum or board meeting, until the state agency forces the meetings.

“I joined because I wanted good water for my children and now they are grown up and see endless circles,” she said.

Moreno said her great-grandmother, Thomasa, bought the family home in 1961 when home ownership was a feat for a Native American woman.

“My great-grandmother believed that water was sacred,” she said. “It is sacred. Because that is life. It’s the same at home.”

The town has two wells. One passed away a few months ago, and all the houses are on the other well.

County workers removed a portion from the first well being repaired to temporarily repair the punctured well Tuesday.

Bryan Osorio, a community advocate for the Community Water Center, a nonprofit that meets with residents, said the precarious position of the community is by no means isolated.

“We have had 200 private wells discharged in the last 30 days in the Central Valley, plus all the community wells at risk,” he said.

In the 1970s, Tulare County released a report identifying 15 “unlivable” communities, including East Orosi, where the county determined that centralizing water and sewers would be wasteful. money. The reason is that communities are made up of farmers, and mechanical harvesters will soon replace them.

Since then, the community has struggled to stay connected to a safe drinking water supply and is hardly the only nearby town facing the problem. The farming community in Tooleville, south of East Orosi, has been trying for years to get water from Exeter, its much wealthier neighbor. Finally, last year, the State Water Resources Control Board ordered Exeter to connect Tooleville to the town’s water source.

Community advocates hope that East Orosi’s crisis is not over and are asking for any help or resources.

“Even if this is rectified in the short term, we are anticipating future well failures and are currently looking for ways to get potable water for consumption and even non-potable water. for the swamp cooler because it will be 108 degrees this weekend,” Pedro Calderon told Community Water wrote in a message.

They are looking to work with any local agency or organization to provide water and water storage facilities or provide cooling centers in the community.

“Any and all resources are welcome,” he said.

On Wednesday, 10-year-old Jonathan Canchola went to his local church to get bottled water distributed overnight by Self-Help Businesses.

He wants it for the family dogs in case the water goes out again.

“Hopefully everything will be fine,” he said. “But I do not think so.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-14/wells-went-dry-central-valley-town-no-water-to-fight-fire Fire ignites in Central Valley town where wells went dry

Edmund DeMarche

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