visalia – Living without water isn’t something you ever get used to. But people like Janice and Ron Gearing have gotten better at managing it, at least long enough for an unlikely group of agencies to come together to find a permanent solution.
It’s been nearly two years since the Gearings well went dry at their home on Avenue 322, off Highway 63 (Dinuba Boulevard) just north of the city limits of Visalia. Theirs was the first of many water wells on the dead end road to dry up since the summer of 2013.
“We have lived here for 12 years and never had a problem, and then, almost overnight, the well went dry,” Janice said.
Understanding the historic drought and with no wet years in sight, the Gearings knew they had to act fast. After a month of using only bottled water, they immediately installed a 4,000 gallon water tank and connected it to their home.
“We have horses and dogs to care for too so we needed more than just bottled water,” she said.
The only problem was the additional expense of $200 to fill it over and over again. Janice said within the first two months they began to identify ways to make the tank last a month. Their children took showers at relatives house while Janice was able to take showers at work. And when they did take showers at home, they used buckets to collect the water to irrigate their trees. Only solid waste was flushed down the toilette.
“You improvise, because you have to,” Janice said.
When they told a friend about their plight, that friend told someone at Self-Help Enterprises. The non-profit resource center has been installing portable water tank systems since getting USDA funding for a pilot project near Farmersville in 2014. Unable to use the Gearings existing system, Self Help Enterprises (SHE) installed one of their own tanks at the home and began providing water to fill the tanks free of charge.
“It’s been an up and down roller coaster,” Janice said. “And there will still be people on tanks for awhile. We’ve been lucky with that.”
Funding Springs A Leak
But even that wasn’t a long term solution to the problem for the few hundred residents living on Avenue 322. Janice knew if a viable solution wasn’t found she, like many others in the unincorporated neighborhood, would have to find a new place for her family to live. Similar to a project to connect a rural community to the City of Farmersville’s water system, SHE began working with California Water Service (CalWater) to connect the homes on Avenue 322 to the City of Visalia’s water system.
District 4 Supervisor Steve Worthley said CalWater was more than willing to extend services to the rural residents. Thanks to a development just south of Avenue 322, CalWater had already extended the northern water main to the corner of Dinuba Boulevard and Avenue 322. But who would pay for the project? CalWater and SHE worked with the County of Tulare to successfully apply for Drought Emergency grant funding to cover the cost of the project.
“The State was willing to pay for a 4-inch water line from the main down Avenue 322,” Worthley said at a press conference on Avenue 322 on April 28. The problem is that CalWater is required to install 6-inch lines to supply enough pressure to connect hydrants for fire protection. The $192,000 project nearly stalled until a coalition of 11 Rotary clubs from Tulare and Fresno counties, stepped in to provide nearly $30,000 to bridge the funding gap to complete the project.
Rotary Clubs Plug the Hole
“This historic drought has had a severe effect throughout the state but especially here in the Central Valley,” said Lee Goldstein, president of the Rotary Club of Visalia, known as Downtown Rotary. “People are suffering. When we learned that these people whose wells have failed continued to lack water because there was no money for hydrants and fire protection, our local Rotarians in Visalia were eager to get involved and to help move this forward. Other Rotary clubs from around Tulare County and even in Fresno County joined us to get this project going.”
Bill Mathis, president of the Visalia Breakfast Rotary Club, said the clubs used the Visalia Rotary Community Foundation to provide money and accessed matching money through Rotary International to fund that $29,500 project gap and pay for fire protection service in the neighborhood.
“This project has taken a long time to come to fruition,” said Bill Mathis, Visalia Breakfast Rotary Club president. “Some of these people have been without reliable, safe water in their homes for almost two years. We are so glad that Rotary was in a position to help. Rotarians believe in service to others. That is bedrock upon which Rotary stands – service.”
So far, 18 households have registered with Self-Help Enterprises to tie into Cal Water’s service. More may still sign up, and others may opt into Cal Water’s service at some later date.
In total, the project comprises 1,800 feet of new water main plus service connections, meters and four fire hydrants for the neighborhood. Self-Help Enterprises worked with the neighborhood residents and Tulare County to secure the State Drought Emergency grant funding for the project.
“We have an excellent relationship with the County of Tulare and Self-Help Enterprises,” said Kevin McCusker, spokesperson for CalWater. “We are excited to have a permanent fix to provide people with safe, reliable water.”
In fact, Rotary’s generosity may continue on the project. Jesse Snider, community specialist with Self Help Enterprises, said the service club may also be providing assistance to connect homeowners to the new water main. Snider said residents will have to pay for the lateral connections from their home to the water main in the middle of the street.
“The residents are planning to come together to help each other dig trenches and run lines from the house to the meters at the main,” Snider said. “People helping each other seems to be a theme on this project.”