County sinks Springville residents’ appeal against health facility

Springville resident Raffaella Woods speaking to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors at the March 12 meeting, where she and other impacted citizens asked the board to accept their appeal against the new Family Healthcare Network facility coming to town.(Karis Caddell)

Tulare County board votes to allow a new health facility into Springville despite community fears the facility will deny them further access to clean water, amongst other concerns

SPRINGVILLE – A group of Springville residents, who fall under the River Island Water District, took to the chambers of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors in hopes of appealing a new healthcare facility set to come to town sometime in the near future. Despite their concerns about the potential impacts the facility could have on the district’s water system, the board ultimately denied the appeal.

The Tulare County Planning Commission approved the addition of a Family Healthcare Network facility in Springville at a previous meeting. Now, as of the latest Board of Supervisors meeting on March 12, the board voted 4-1 to deny an appeal to the planning commission’s decision, with Supervisor Dennis Townsend voting against the denial.

Before the determination was made, the board held a public hearing to hear the appellant and the community’s take on the matter.

The appeal was brought to the board because of concerns that a medical facility would put too much stress on an already struggling water system. There have already been complaints about the water company Del Oro – which serves the River Island homes just outside of Springville – not having enough clean water and/or water pressure.

Members of the affected Springville community showed up to the meeting to beg the board to accept their appeal during the hearing.

“We invite you to come to our house and drink our water,” the appellant Raffaella Woods said. “There is fecal matter coming out of our water. I don’t think you would like to drink it.”

She added, “And that’s when there is water coming out of our faucet.”

Woods continued to explain that during the summer, the community goes 12 hours a day not using any water at all, and despite that, still ended up having to pay a $500 bill for water they couldn’t drink.

Many other residents from the area shared Woods’ concerns about how the health facility would impact the water system in the area. One woman shared an experience she had after being told by a Del Oro representative that the water was drinkable, only to see that her next water bill stated the water was not potable.

“When my bill dated Feb. 28 came out, it still said no water for infants, no water for pregnant women and do not boil water because it will condense the water, making the contaminants more available,” Karen O’Connor said.

She continued by explaining that from her perspective, the company does not seem to take the issue seriously. On top of that, O’Connor is concerned for the patients at the health facility since they will not have clean water to sterilize equipment or provide to patients.

Community member Grady Woolsey was also concerned about the impacts of the facility. His concerns were centered around the health facility not being held to the same water restrictions as the residents, noting that if they go over in water usage, their meters are restricted.

“I’m not opposed to having a clinic serving the folks but, by golly, why should I have water taken from me without a reduction in price (to) give it to the clinic (so their needs are met, while) we go without?,” Woolsey said.

Many of the residents also expressed concerns about how the facility would affect traffic in the area and claimed they did not have enough parking for prospective staff and patients.

As it is, Del Oro has already issued a level five water conservation, which is considered a critical water shortage, in River Island, which is close to Springville. However, despite this, the water company also provided a letter to the county insisting that they do have the water available to support the new health facility.

According to Aaron Bock of the Tulare County Resource Management Agency, the California Public Utilities Commission regulates Del Oro, meaning the state agency makes the call on whether the water company’s services are up to par or not. This means the county cannot make valid decisions or try to disagree with permits that are the decisions of another agency.

“The staff finds that the appellant’s arguments are pretty much invalid, irrelevant and unwarranted because the board does not have the authority to order Del Oro water company to rescind its ‘Will Serve’ letter,” Bock said.

Bock also pointed out Del Oro is in the works of implementing a water treatment plan to decontaminate the water.

“It looks like Del Oro was hoping to have the (water) treatment plan online before the healthcare network is completed, which could solve a lot of problems,” Townsend said. “I would love to see the county, make sure that there’s potable water at the required pressure prior to issuing a certificate of occupancy.”

The water agency has been working on a water treatment plant, which is meant to address the issue by supplying a “new, cutting-edge water treatment plant to ensure the provision of clean and safe drinking water for our residents,” according to Del Oro Water Company’s website. The site states the plant is expected to commence operations sometime in May.

Townsend, who represents the affected region as District 5 representative, noted the water that Del Oro has been providing in the meantime has not been drinkable, and said he has worked on various programs to deliver bottled water to the residents of that area. He also explained Senator Shannon Grove worked on a program to provide donated water to the area recently, and he received notification that the stores of bottled water they had delivered there had run out again.

Despite Townsend’s concerns, Vice Chair Pete Vander Poel explained his reasoning for denying the appeal.

“I know it’s incredibly frustrating for any resident when you’re having difficulties with the water that you are being provided,” Vander Poel said. “Unfortunately, we do not have the control or the jurisdiction over this private water company, … we just give permits when we have a constituent come in and they can check every box and meet the requirements of the building code. That is the duty of Tulare County.”

Bock also explained some further background on the overall situation.

“There’s nothing in the record provided to show the violation of Department of Public Health requirements regarding the water,” Bock said about the water supplied to River Island Water District from Del Oro.

Bock explained that, according to the water company, Del Oro is not the reason for the water conservation management issues. He said it is because River Island residents are overwatering their landscaping despite warnings to reduce their water as they update their systems which were affected by the storms last year.

He continued by saying Del Oro has submitted all of the qualifying documentation to allow the health facility to open. Townsend countered this point by saying River Island hasn’t watered in that area for a year because their irrigation system is going out, making Del Oro’s argument “hard to swallow.”

Overall, despite the opposing viewpoints from residents and the water company, it is unclear how the facility will eventually impact the residents, Del Oro and the community’s water system. With the Board of Supervisors ultimately voting to deny the appeal, the facility has the greenlight to set up shop in Springville.

CORRECTION: The story “County sinks Springville residents’ appeal against health facility” has been updated after confirmation that the healthcare center mentioned in the article will be a Family Healthcare Network facility and not a Kaweah Healthcare facility. March 21 at 10:21 a.m. pst.

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