Tulare County families connect to new water system

Tulare County families connect to new water system

Posted on July 24, 2019

Maria is a long time resident of Okieville-Highland Acres, a small rural community in Tulare County 5 miles west of City of Tulare consisting of approximately 100 homes.  Maria first bought her home with her husband (now deceased) back in 2000 and together had three daughters. Today, Maria stays at home to care for two of her four grandchildren. For decades, families in this area have depended on their individual water wells for their daily water needs. Unfortunately, in 2015, many wells in this community went dry due to the drought. This was the case with Maria’s well. One day, when paying her Tulare Irrigation District Assessment, she shared that they were out of water. Maria was advised to call 211, a comprehensive source of local human and social services information, and that’s how Maria first learned about Self-Help Enterprises’ emergency water tank program.

In 2014, Self-Help Enterprises (SHE) began designing and implementing a drought relief program.  With an initial donation from the Bank of Sierra, SHE staff developed a water tank/pump system that could use hauled water to provide running water into homes.  In collaboration with the State and Tulare County Office of Emergency Services, United Way of Tulare County and Community Services and Employment Training (CSET), Maria and many of her neighbors were provided with these temporary water storage tanks while efforts were made to implement a permanent solution.

After running out of water, Maria’s life and her family’s life drastically changed for the worse. For a few months, a neighbor whose well was still functioning provided them with water for a fee, which Maria knew was not sustainable for them long-term. “My lawn and plants used to be green and beautiful and now they were all gone. Everything turned into dirt. There were times you could see a layer of dirt on the windows, that’s how dry it was.” Maria was excited to be connected to Self-Help Enterprises, and after a few months, her home was the first to have a water tank installed. This provided some immediate relief.

As a response to the drought, the community came together to decide how they would overcome the challenges that affected their community. With the help of Self-Help Enterprises’ Community Development team, and through coordinated community meetings, outreach, and exploring options, the homeowners elected to establish an independent mutual water company to serve their rural community. This was the first step that had to be done in order to set up a new water system. It was also during this time that Maria began playing an active role engaging with her community, oftentimes using her home for the numerous community meetings. She is an organic and trusted voice in her community. “The community of Okieville is a strong example of how community members can come together to help their neighbors and work out a solution that makes the community stronger,” said Eva Dominguez, Project Manager under the Community Development Department. “I am inspired by the community their commitment to creating a better quality of life for themselves.”

Through State and Federal funding sources (US Department of Agriculture, State Water Resources Control Board and California Department of Water Resources) and with the assistance of SHE, the community of Okieville now has a new water system in place which will provide safe, reliable drinking water to many families. Home connections made by CSET Sequoia Community Corps were officially completed this week.

“It was a complete and total change,” said Maria when asked how she feels after being connected to the new water system. “While the water tanks were helpful, it just wasn’t enough water. We limited ourselves to minimal water usage and it was hard. Being connected is a huge relief.”

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