Springville residents voice complaints against Del Oro Water

Local resident of Springville expresses his frustration to the answers given by Del Oro Water.(Kenny Goodman)

After months without a steady water supply, Springville residents rally together to get to the root of the issue by going to water source Del Oro Water

SPRINGVILLE – It goes without saying that water is a necessity, one that has been taken away from residents of the Montgomery Ranch Subdivision of Springville after flooding and subsequent water shortages. While their provider, the Del Oro Water Company, has promised they’re doing the best they can, residents aren’t so sure.

A public meeting was held on Friday, July 28, which allowed Springville residents to ask Del Oro the questions they’ve been dying to know: when are they going to get their water back, and will they get reimbursed for damages and bills.

The meeting was organized and mediated by Raffaella Woods, the Springville resident who led the charge with initial and formal complaints against Del Oro. Joining her were several county officials, including Tulare County Board of Supervisors chairman Dennis Townsend and Senator Shannan Grove (Senate District 12), as well as the Tulare County Fire chief and two representatives from Del Oro.

Woods began the meeting by laying out the facts of the matter, as well as asking the residents to remain civilized as discussion was underway.

“The flood is not Del Oro’s fault,” she said, “but it sure as hell is not our fault.”

The initial flooding occurred on March 10, which not only left residents without power, but also destroyed five of Del Oro’s wells. This fact was brought up repeatedly by the company’s representatives during the meeting.

“We lost five Wells with that Tule River flood,” Janice Hanna, Del Oro’s director of corporate accounting, said. “If we had not lost those five wells, you would not be here for a meeting.”

While Del Oro is working on fixing the damaged wells, they said it will likely be two weeks before they can get them operational.

“We will hopefully have (three) of them back on in a week, maybe two weeks,” Hannah said. “We have to get power poles there; we are actually doing the work ourselves so we can get it done faster.”

Another issue repeatedly brought up, by both the panel and the residents, was the treatment plant that the residents have been paying for as a part of their monthly water bill. Initially announced in 2009, the plant was supposed to finish construction in 2013. Now, 10 years later, it’s still not complete.

“I was at the treatment plant today,” Hanna said. “We’re looking at starting it up in October, it’s very close to being done, the canal is full of water. Next year you will be getting treated water that your whole family can drink.”

October was not soon enough for one resident, who spoke up to ask what Del Oro would be doing in the meantime to get them the water they need.

“I need your help, I truly do,” Hanna said. “How many people are watering three days a week?” She asked residents to raise their hands and was instead met with an angry murmur. One resident yelled, “my backyard is dead, and I’ve been showering once a week.”

Similar statements were shared by people around the room, but Hanna pushed forward, again urging residents to conserve where they can, a repeated plea – which didn’t sit well with the residents.

“What are we gonna do for the next two weeks,” Woods said. “We have no water. Don’t tell me to conserve because everyone is going to go … crazy.”

Woods continued by bringing up the root of the issue, their high water bills for water they don’t have.

“We are paying over 200 a month for water we don’t have,” she said. “I know it costs you (Del Oro) a lot of money, but you’re making a hell of a lot of money out of us and you’re not providing us a service.”

The discussion continued with residents sharing what they think would be good solutions to the issue. The Del Oro representatives responded to the best of their ability. In the end, it appeared as if things would remain the way they are for now until Hanna and her colleague could bring the feedback to their higher ups.

This didn’t sit well with residents. Half of the room had left before the meeting was officially called to a close. While nothing concrete was said or decided apart from the fixing of the three wells and the continued efforts on the plant, it seems that Del Oro will try to mend the fallout of the flood to the best of their ability.

A communication drought

This all began when a formal complaint was sent on June 27, acting as a collective cry for justice by 30 households, each without potable water for several days or even weeks. Their statement includes excerpts from Del Oro’s site and statements, as well as quotes from California state laws and bills.

According to their statement, the residents were “left without electricity from the early morning of (March 10) to evening of (March 12).” During this time, they lost their water, which remained the case until March 17. When the water returned, it was unable to be used for showering or washing until March 23.

During this time, Residents were being billed as though their water was perfectly intact, which they found unfair. “Del Oro should, as per the Emergency Disaster Relief Program, waive our bill, or authorize a pro rata waiver of any fixed element from (March 10) to (March 23),” said their statement.

To make matters worse, they claimed that Del Oro was next to unresponsive during that 13 day window, withholding documents and failing to respond much if at all.

If one were to navigate to the Del Oro site as of publication, they would be met with an alert that would take them to a page regarding the issues reported by the resident. According to their statement, “two wells were totally destroyed or made permanently inoperable, and our three golf course wells suffered significant damage during the flooding.”

Contrary to the statements made by the residents, their site claims to be hard at work fixing the issue. “We also want you to know that we have been working hard to bring River Island’s water supply back to normal.” They also urge residents to cut back on their use of water. “Please reduce watering to ensure that all customers in the district have water available for safety and sanitary uses.”

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