Water is Life – Madera Avenue 14 Project

Water is Life – Madera Avenue 14 Project

madera water connection project

Posted on December 26, 2018

madera water connection project

This was the first time that Evelyn Rios (81) and her husband Joe, experienced a water scarcity so severe, their entire wellbeing was impacted. The Rios’ have lived in their home for over 48 years and were actually part of the pioneering group of folks to build their homes through Self-Help Enterprises’ Mutual Self-Help Program back in 1970. Evelyn has lived in Madera all of her life and has seen the city evolve.  “Madera has grown a lot,” said Evelyn. “I grew up in a small barrio by the high school and have seen a lot of changes through the years.”

The Rios’ are deeply rooted in family and have five generations to prove it. They have a total of 5 (living) children, 15 grandchildren, 46 great grandchildren and 10 great great grandchildren. While these days, it’s difficult to all get together, they find immense joy in knowing they are responsible for it all. Now in their 80’s and with various health issues, the Rios’ were in many ways more susceptible to the effects of the drought than most. “We never went through anything like this before. It was awful, it was so awful,” shared Evelyn with tears in her eyes.

Evelyn and Joe live on Avenue 14, a half mile south of Road 28 ½, outside of the City of Madera. This small unincorporated area is categorized as a Disadvantage Community (DAC) which by definition, refers to the areas throughout California which most suffer from a combination of economic, health, and environmental burdens. This was the case for the Rios’ and their immediate neighbors. Ten of the eleven homes in this community were connected to two wells, each well serving five homes.  Unfortunately, these wells became inactive mid-2014 due to the drought’s effects on the water table.

The four-year period between 2011 and 2015 were the driest ever recorded. Conditions worsened between 2014 and 2015, which led Governor Brown to declare a state of emergency. During this time, the County of Madera utilized State emergency funding through the California Office of Emergency Services and the California Disaster Assistance Act to supply these residents with bottled water for consumption and hauled non-potable water for sanitation purposes, which is stored in 2,500-gallon water storage tanks on-site (deliveries eventually ceased in 2018).

Water Ave 14 Connection Resident Alejandro Vieyra, husband and father of three children, lives just a few houses down from the Rios’ family. His home sits on about 30 acres where he professionally boards and cares for 40 horses. Unlike his neighbors, his home is connected to a separate well that also went dry as a result of the drought. From an agricultural standpoint, Alejandro had a better sense than most about the water scarcity in the area.  “For some time, we knew of wells going dry, but we never thought it would actually happen to us,” said Alejendro.

The cries for help first began among immediate neighbors. “We started talking to each other about how we didn’t have water anymore, and how our wells were drying. That’s how it began. That’s how we realized that we needed help,” said Alejandro.

The residents along Avenue 14 reached out to Self-Help Enterprises regarding the water well program, hoping to get assistance to dig new wells. After realizing the close proximity to the city, SHE began exploring the option of potentially connecting to the City of Madera water system.

As a proposed solution, Self-Help Enterprises along with Madera County’s Environmental Health Department and the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water, pursued Clean-up and Abatement Account emergency drought funding to pay for the connection. This gave residents along Avenue 14 hope. Unfortunately, this hope quickly disintegrated when on April 7, 2017, Governor Brown announced the drought to be over in all but a few counties. This decision, although positive news overall, made Madera County and the Avenue 14  project ineligible for the funds.

This was a huge setback for all who were involved. After months promising water was in sight, suddenly, nothing was certain again.  For residents like Evelyn and Alejandro, this meant more heartache. “It was rough because for us, water is life,” said Evelyn.

madera water connection construction siteEventually, a conversation with the Department of Water Resources (DWR) sparked the possibility of funding the project. Through funds from DWR and collaboration with Self-Help Enterprises, Madera County and the City of Madera, a plan was underway to connect residents along Avenue 14 to the City of Madera water system.

Still, there were challenges. A few households to-date refuse to participate in this project, not fully convinced that connecting is the best option for them.  However, for Evelyn and Alejandro, connecting to the city’s water system is the most sustainable and long lasting option—providing the community with a permanent source of water for generations to come. “Spending around $25,000 on a new well doesn’t guarantee that we won’t have this problem again in the near future. We are talking about an essential necessity,” said Alejandro. “We don’t realize how much of a necessity water is until we don’t have it. Without water, it doesn’t matter what else you have.”

Construction of this project began November of 2018 and is expected to conclude by late January of 2019.

“This project would not have been possible if it were not for all the people from the various State agencies, County of Madera, City of Madera, and here at Self-Help Enterprises that got together to find a solution for the residents of Avenue 14.  It really was a team effort and everyone involved has gone above and beyond to help. I am just happy that after all these years they can finally have a reliable source of drinking water, said Efrain Casas, Community Development Specialist for Self-Help Enterprises.

“When I saw the backhoe, and the pipes, I thought to myself, thank you lord,” said Evelyn.  “My heart jumped for joy. Self-Help Enterprise has helped so many people here in the Madera and in the Valley. I am very appreciative for them.”

Finally there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hope has turned into excitement, and residents begin to receive the much-needed and much-deserved peace of mind. Water is indeed life, as we have seen time after time.  Without water, we have nothing.

While the rest of the state has moved on, Avenue 14 is just one of many rural communities who continue to feel the effects of the drought. This is why Self-Help Enterprises continues to help families and communities living without water by evaluating their situation and exploring different assistance options such as, (1) connecting to a city water system, (2) providing low interest loans for new private wells or (3) provide low interest loans to drill a new well or deepen an existing well.

If you have been impacted by the drought and need assistance, please contact us at 559.651.1000 or visit our Drought Assistance page.

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