For some Californians, effects of punishing drought not over


Knee-high tufts of grass dot the streets of Hardwick, a rural neighborhood with a few dozen homes hemmed in by vineyards and walnut and almond orchards in California's agriculture-rich San Joaquin Valley.

Nearby, the Kings River — swollen with rainwater and Sierra Nevada snowmelt — meanders through fields. Water is abundant in the river but it may not last.

Despite winter storms that have turned much of California's parched landscape to vibrant green, the drought has yet to loosen its grip on thousands of residents in the valley. Many people must still use water stored in large tanks in their yard to wash dishes and bathe.

Scientists at Stanford University and NASA say excessive pumping of wells during the drought has tapped out some underground sources of water that will never recover.

At the height of the drought, nearly 2,400 wells dried up, affecting 12,000 people, state officials said.

The drought emergency remains in effect in Kings, Fresno, Tulare and Tuolumne counties, even after one of California's wettest winters in years prompted officials to declare an end to the historic, five-year dry spell in nearly all of the nation's most populous state.

David Miguel relies on water from a large, black emergency tank located just steps from the front door of his mobile home. A water delivery truck tops it off every few weeks.

"You can take a bath with it, do dishes — no problem," said Miguel, a 64-year-old retired farm hand who was raised on his family's long-gone dairy operation in Hardwick. "I wouldn't drink it."

Miguel and his neighbor survive on the trucked-in water and deliveries of bottled drinking water. They live in the last two Hardwick homes awaiting a state grant to hook into a reliable water main.

Miguel doesn't know when his home will get connected to the new 470-foot (143-meter) community well outside the county fire station, but he anticipates a $50 monthly water bill — more than it costs to run his own well.

Miguel laughed when asked what he thinks about Gov. Jerry Brown's recent declaration that the drought is over for most of California.

"Oh, is that so?" he joked.

Keeping the emergency declaration in place in a few areas allows officials to prolong efforts to find permanent water supplies for desperate residents.

In parts of the San Joaquin Valley, underground aquifers — layers of earth saturated by water — collapsed from over-pumping during years of dry weather, according to scientists at Stanford and NASA who studied satellite imagery to measure sinking land.

They say layers of clay soil have compacted, permanently reducing natural aquifer storage capacity.

Throughout the San Joaquin Valley, the situation has left roughly 900 homes relying on storage tanks for residential water.

Emergency water tanks for residents have cost the state nearly $28 million since 2014, with more than half in Tulare County.

Calls for help have slowed significantly, said Susan Atkins of Self-Help Enterprises, a nonprofit organization that helps residents get tanks and navigate government bureaucracy.

"But they're still coming in," she said about the calls.

In Hardwick, which has no sidewalks or streetlights, residents say their wells began drying up after farmers on three sides of the community dug deep wells to irrigate their orchards during the drought, when water from rivers and canals was scarce.

Resident Alvin Lea said his 120-foot (37-meter) well that was drilled in the 1960s dried up, costing him $17,000 for a new one that was more than 100 feet (30.48 meters) deeper.

Lea, 77, a retired mechanic, keeps his swimming pool full for his great grandchildren to play in during scorching summer days. He raises 200 exotic birds, which also need to drink, he said, tipping back the brim of his hat to peer at them through a wire mesh enclosure.

Randy Herman, a long-distance trucker with a family, says it's obvious to him that his community is a long way from rebounding from drought.

After his well ran dry, he connected to a large water tank before finally hooking up to the community well. Not all of his neighbors are so fortunate, he said.

"You got tanks, you got water bottles," Herman said. "I don't think the drought's over. It's going to take a long time."


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Justin Bieber accidentally hits photographer with pickup truck, police say
Justin Bieber accidentally hits photographer with pickup truck, police say

Pop star Justin Bieber reportedly hit a member of the paparazzi with his pickup truck late Wednesday in Beverly Hills, California. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bieber accidentally hit the 57-year-old man about 9:30 p.m. near the intersection of Hamilton Drive and Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills police said. CNN reported that City...
Convicted pedophile priest Paul Shanley to be released from prison
Convicted pedophile priest Paul Shanley to be released from prison

Convicted pedophile and defrocked priest Paul Shanley is set to be released from prison Friday. In 2005, Shanley was convicted of two counts of child rape and two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child. The abuse happened between 1983 and 1989 at St. Jean's Church in Newton, Massachusetts. Shanley, now 86 years old, was sentenced to...
Ellen DeGeneres fires back at Trump's tweet about transgender military ban
Ellen DeGeneres fires back at Trump's tweet about transgender military ban

Ellen DeGeneres certainly doesn’t agree with President Donald Trump’s latest announcement about banning transgender individuals from joining the military. Following the news of the ban, the TV host shared a message with fans on Twitter to express her disagreement. “We should be grateful to the people who wish to serve...
Bobby Brown remembers Bobbi Kristina Brown two years after her passing
Bobby Brown remembers Bobbi Kristina Brown two years after her passing

Two years after her tragic death, Bobbi Kristina Brown’s father is paying tribute to his “baby girl.” On Wednesday, Bobby Brown took to Twitter to share a video of his late daughter singing Adele’s “Someone Like You” as his way of commemorating the second anniversary of her death. “I [heart] you Baby Girl,&rdquo...
One-armed, machete-wielding clown arrested in Maine
One-armed, machete-wielding clown arrested in Maine

Maine saw its first “creepy clown” sighting of the year on Tuesday when residents reported a machete-wielding man in a clown mask near their neighborhood. WCSH in Portland reported that 911 dispatchers got multiple calls around 6 p.m. Tuesday from residents in Hollis, who reported that the man was walking near a convenience store before...
More Stories