Drought-Stricken Community Takes Action to Form Water System

Drought-Stricken Community Takes Action to Form Water System

Posted on February 29, 2016

Most of us enjoy the convenience of having water to cook, drink, and clean, but not all San Joaquin Valley communities enjoy the same. This is especially true in communities like Highland Acres, a community of about 300 people located five miles west of the city of Tulare in Tulare County, where the groundwater table has dropped due to the persistent drought. Almost all of the properties in the area are served by private wells and to date, more than 14 wells have gone dry with more expected to go dry this summer. Currently, eleven owner-occupied households have received a 2,500 gallon water tank, which connects to their household plumbing system thereby temporarily restoring water. Some tenants, who do not qualify for the County’s water tank program, are also paying a monthly fee to obtain water from their neighbors via a water hose and drip irrigation-type systems.

Without a neighboring community close in proximity, residents in Highland Acres, also known as Okieville due to its Dust Bowl roots and history of migrants from Oklahoma who settled there, are unable to connect to an established water system. Additionally without a legal entity in place, the community found itself unable to access State and/or Federal funding to plan for and construct a public water system.

Through a Legal Entity Formation Assistance (LEFA) Program grant, Self-Help Enterprises’ Community Development department began holding community meetings in early spring of 2105 to provide residents with information about their drinking water supply. The LEFA grant, a key component to identifying and implementing a community-wide solution, provides free water testing/sounding of local wells, supports holding community meetings to discuss water source options and legal entity options, and funds the formation of the community selected legal entity.

Shortly thereafter, a community committee (Community of Okieville United) of local volunteers was formed to address the local water challenges impacting the community. Over the course of the year, a series of community meetings were held to encourage all residents (home owners and renters) to participate in the selection of the appropriate water source option and governance structure for their community.

Okieville Community Meeting

Residents of Highland Acres vote at a community meeting to form a mutual water system.

In July 2015, a community meeting was held in partnership with Self-Help Enterprises, Provost and Pritchard and McCormick, Kabot, Jenner and Lew to discuss water source options and legal entity options available to the community for a long-term solution. At the conclusion of the meeting, the community supported the creation of a public water system and the formation of a mutual water company. Since then, 53% of the property owners have agreed to form a Mutual Water Company. In November 2015, the community elected their first Board of Directors. The Articles of Incorporation for the newly formed mutual water company were sent to the Secretary of State for review and approval in early 2016. The Okieville Highland Acres Mutual Water Company was recently listed as active with the Articles filed on January 19, 2016.

With the Mutual Water Company now formed and incorporated, the next step is securing funding to drill a 500-foot well with a filling station followed by the installation of a water distribution system and a second well. This water system will bring a permanent solution and clean, reliable water to the drought-stricken community. Self-Help Enterprises’ Community Development will continue to work the Okieville Highland Acres Mutual Water Company and Tulare County to secure funds that will enable the community to establish a public water system.

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