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Environment & Science

California's drought has dried up wells, leading one town to home deliver water

Photo by Vinoth Chandar via Flickr Creative Commons

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Nearly the entire state of California is in the middle of a severe drought. 

For most residents, the water is still flowing, even if it's just a trickle. But in the Central Valley town of East Porterville, taps have actually run dry.

Tulare County officials have now stepped in to drop off drinking water to affected residents. In late January-early February, they started to get word that homes' privately-drilled wells had began to sputter out.

"It started as a slow trickle, and as of about June or July it's turned into a fire hose of reports," says Andrew Lockman, manager of emergency services for Tulare County, where East Porterville is located

Just recently they gave an estimated three weeks of drinking water to each person in affected homes.

However that was a one-time drop-off.

"We've been trying to get funding," Lockman says. Most money for this effort comes from the county's general funds, and the approval process has been slow going.

He says if state and federal officials declared Tulare County a natural disaster zone as a result of the drought, it would free up more money at a faster rate.

"The drought is materializing very slowly. It's not a traditional disaster, so we haven't had the normal resources available," he says.

Also holding back the floodgate of government support is the residents themselves. Lockman says some haven't reached out for a number of reasons: Some people aren't conditioned to call the county when their well runs dry, for example, and don't know to reach out in the first place. Others are afraid that news of no running water in a home will mean their house is red-tagged.

"Then there's some concerned from people that are undocumented that may not want to interact with the government," Lockman adds, "and there's a concern about child welfare services getting involved."

He says there's an urban legend that officials will take away people's children if they discover there's no water in the home.

"We've never taken anyone's children just because of a lack of running water," says Lockman.

In the long-term, his department is encouraging residents to apply for grants where private companies would deliver future water supplies instead of officials. However, the county will still help pay for that service in this time of need.

That may continue until people have their wells re-dug, or the drought lets up.