Springville citizens highlight water shortage amid wildfire season

Residents of Springville turn out in numbers to share their frustrations with Del Oro Water.(Kenny Goodman)

Water Warriors Against Del Oro voice concern about their lack of steady water as incoming storms bring worries of wildfires

SPRINGVILLE – As summer heat draws to a close and thunderstorms come rolling in, Springville residents worry their lack of access to steady, reliable water could put their homes at risk of succumbing to future wildfires.

In a recent press release posted to the Water Warriors Against Del Oro (WWADO) Facebook page, residents express concern that, due to the lack of water pressure in their fire hydrants, first responders won’t be able to put out any potential fires – specifically in the Montgomery Ranch and River Island areas.

“We are equally worried as there is not enough water pressure in the fire hydrants to put out a potential fire… due to Del Oro’s lack of a timely response to the March 10th flooding,” the release said.

WWADO was put together by Springville residents who receive their water from the Del Oro Water district. According to reports, Springville citizens in Del Oro’s district have had limited access to safe and reliable water – something that has been an issue for several months.

Unreliable water supply

Since March, many Springville residents haven’t had steady access to clean water. For approximately 67 days, they were hooked up to irrigation water to allow them the ability to flush their toilets. Two weeks into that period, they were given the okay to shower; however, the water was “highly chlorinated” according to Rafaella Woods, the resident leading the charge against Del Oro.

“After 67 days, they hooked us up back to ‘clean’ water,” she said, notably making air quotes with her fingers. “I say ‘clean’ with quotation marks because it’s still way too high in (contaminants like) uranium and nitrates.”

Another thing that’s unbalanced is the system’s water pressure. Starting July 5, residents living in the Montgomery Ranch Subdivision lost regular access to their water due to what they believe was the sudden influx and outflux of pressure bursting lines, which lead to severe leakage.

“Because the pressure was coming in and out, it started bursting lines,” Woods said. “So we (had) no water and yet we used $576 (worth of water), apparently.”

According to Del Oro, the only line that has been damaged during this period was the main line serving the Montgomery Ranch District, which had been taken out during the initial flooding. On May 10, that line was repaired.

While Del Oro is currently working to restore some of their wells – five of which were also damaged in the flood – as well as complete their ground water treatment plant, residents say the company hasn’t been properly monitoring the pressure of the little water they do have.

“In theory, the 12 hours, 10 hours, eight hours – whatever it is, when we have water, it is clean,” Woods said. “However, whenever the pressure goes below 20 psi (pounds per square inch), bacteria can get in.”

According to Woods, Del Oro is supposed to test the water everytime it drops below 50 psi. After talking to Adam Forbes, the head of the California Water Boards in the area, Woods learned that Del Oro has reportedly said the district’s pressure never drops below 50 psi.

WWADO mentioned this in an emailed response to the California State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water (DDW/State Water Board), saying that Delo Oro has lied to the board about the district’s water pressure; and by extension, is also lying about contaminant levels.

“You only found out about the (water) pressure (in our homes) because we sent videos of the reality we are living in every day,” WWADO stated. “Del Oro knows about this, and yet they told you pressure never goes below 50 psi. We have asked repeatedly to have the water tested not by Del Oro. We are still waiting for a response.”

Janice Hanna, Del Oro’s director of corporate accounting and regulatory affairs, said the company is only required to report to the DDW/State Water Board if pressure drops below five psi.

“The District Office of the State Water Board requires Del Oro Water to report to them when the psi is at five or lower, so that a Boil Water Order can be issued,” Hanna said in a statement to The Sun-Gazette. “We have not seen or recorded pressure at that lower level.”

Measurements and restrictions

While Del Oro’s observations have typically seen levels around 50 to 70 psi, specifically in the River Island District, they did record 29 psi at a fire hydrant in the higher area of the district on the morning of Aug. 17.

According to Hanna, the drops in pressure can be attributed to two things. Firstly, overnight irrigation demand can – and does – lead to lower pressure in the morning. Secondly, some residents are reportedly not adhering to the water schedules put in place to help conserve the water they do have access to.

“(Should) customers conserve and reduce their usage by 20%, Del Oro’s tanks would be more stable and there (would) be no pressure or water shortage at their homes,” Hanna said.

As of Aug. 17, Del Oro has submitted Advice Letter No. 542 to the California Public Utilities department, which will activate Stage 4 of its Schedule No. 14.1 Water Shortage Contingency Plan. Once this is in place, customers will be limited to two days a week for outside watering.

Stage 4 was forced into motion due to residents failing to meet the Stage 2 (20% conservation) restrictions during the month of mid-July to mid-August.

According to their recent notice: “Effective immediately the highest users will be receiving a written notice of their First Violation as they have not reduced usage by 20%. If requested reduction is not achieved, water restrictors will be installed on customers’ meters.”

This warning was echoed by the DDW/State Water Board who said — in an email to various residents, Del Oro Representatives and local officials — that the next step should be figuring out who’s using the most water by placing meters to monitor homes.

“Del Oro needs to identify the heaviest users of the water based on meter reading more often,” the statement reads. “Once these users are identified, Del Oro needs to go and install restrictors on the meters of those homes. This will ensure that enough drinking water is around for the rest of the system.”

Generating solutions

In its response to the DDW/State Water Board, the WWADO indicated that limitations on outside watering will not remedy the issue of low water supply, because overwatering is not the issue at hand.

“There might be some people watering more than necessary. However, most of our yards are dead/dying,” the WWADO said. “Tree trunks are splitting because they are parched.”

The WWADO claimed that the situation of low water distribution is tied to Del Oro only using one of its wells. According to the group, the district has two wells that are in working order but lack electricity.

“Why do you not force them to put generators at the two wells which are in working order,” WWADO said to the DDW/State Water Board. “Why is it taking so long to get electricity to those wells?”

In response to Del Oro installing restrictors on the meters of impacted homes, WWADO welcomed the idea of the water district and department visiting the area. The group’s representatives noted that both organizations are more than welcome to come into their homes to monitor the water.

“Del Oro and the Water Board are welcome to come to our houses and use our taps to measure the pressure! We don’t care what they report to you,” WWADO said in its response. “We care about what is actually going on. I am sure many of us would be happy to switch houses with any of you for just one week.”

While these conservation orders may not allow residents to fill their pools – which could help put out future fires – it will allow residents to have more access to water they need to use within their homes. Once the surface water treatment plant — which Del Oro is expecting to complete in November — is up and running, residents may experience lifts on the orders.

“California is drowning in water, our river is still raging, and yet we have no water,” WWADO said in its statements. “That is mismanagement on the part of the water company, not the residents’ fault.”

Start typing and press Enter to search