Sewage backup in East Orosi renews frustration and allegations of dysfunction 

April 12, 2024
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
by Jesse Vad, SJV Water
East Orosi residents protested alleged mistreatment by the East Orosi Community Services District over sewage services in September 2023. Photo courtesy Oscar Lomeli / Fresnoland
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
Jesse Vad, SJV Water

Share This: 

Residents in the small town of East Orosi woke up Sunday to backed-up toilets and yards flooded with wastewater. One of the community’s wastewater pumps stopped working, causing sewage backups for two days until workers were able to fix the pump late Monday night.  

“It’s really bad. Somebody needs to do something about it,” said Norma Rodriguez, an East Orosi resident. “I already have diabetes, I don’t wanna be getting sick off something else.” 

Rodriguez’s toilets stopped working and backed up for two days when the pump went down on Sunday. She lives with her boyfriend and four children, ages ranging from 5-26. Rodriguez worries about the safety of her children because of exposure to the sewage. 

Many residents and advocates lay the blame with the East Orosi Community Services District (CSD), which oversees the sewage service. The malfunction is the most recent in a long line of issues the community has been struggling with for years. 

“These are dilapidated pieces of infrastructure on account of East Orosi’s poverty and historic lack of oversight,” said Janaki Anagha, director of community advocacy at nonprofit Community Water Center, which has been helping East Orosi residents. “There’s really no answers being provided to the community residents about why their wastewater system continues to be at such risk all the time, in such a dilapidated state and so poorly managed that these kind of unheard of public health crises continue to happen.”

There are two community wells in East Orosi that are contaminated with nitrates. The state Water Resources Control Board has provided bottled water for about a decade. In 2020, the Water Board ordered the city of Orosi to connect homes served by the East Orosi CSD as part of a forced consolidation for drinking water supply. 

Homes in the community of about 950 are all on septic tanks, but pipelines move the sewage to a collection system, which the CSD is responsible for. Residents pay $39 a month for that service.

The state Water Board has no authority over the CSD’s sewage operations.

This is not the first time residents have dealt with a sewage backup. In an especially bad 2018 incident, sewage flooded homes and yards, said Rodriguez. It’s frustrating the issues haven’t been solved, she said. 

Last year, about 40 residents protested at a CSD meeting and laid out charges of mistreatment. They alleged the district has overcharged them and that an employee was abusive and threatened to call immigration services on some residents. 

Since then, the CSD has stopped having meetings entirely, said Anagha. It hasn’t held a meeting of any kind in more than six months, she added. 

“I don’t know how that’s reasonable behavior by a community services district,” said Anagha. “They’re just simply not meeting in order to avoid any kind of accountability.” 

Another problem lies with federal grants, said Anagha. 

Dozens of households in East Orosi have applied for help with water bills through the federal Low Income Household Water Assistance Program. 

But staff at the CSD were not properly applying the funds to residents’ bills, according to Anagha.

Community Water Center filed a cease and desist order against Lucy Rodriguez, a CSD staff member who residents claim had been mistreating people, in an attempt to correct the amounts on people’s bills. 

Lucy Rodriguez refutes all the claims of mistreatment and dysfunction. 

“It’s just outrageous lies,” said Rodriguez. 

On Wednesday, after being unable to reach staff by phone or mail, Anagha showed up at the CSD office until she was shown proof that staff had started applying funds to bills. Anagha said Rodriguez showed her proof of three residents’ bills that have received the federal aid. 

It is not known how many residents have applied since it’s an individual application process but Anagha said it is likely dozens. The upper amount of money applied for is about $2,500. 

Anagha said the California Attorney General’s office should get involved with the situation but it has been largely unhelpful with previous issues Anagha has brought to its attention.

Staff from the Attorney General’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Advocates from Community Water Center are pushing for the sewage oversight to be taken over by Orosi Public Utilities District, said Anagha. But the state can’t force a sewage consolidation like it can for drinking water, she added. 

Jesse Vad, SJV Water

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


Receive the latest news

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter & Get Email Notifications

Enter your email address to receive INSTANT ALERTS of new articles and to be added to SJV Water’s WEEKLY NEWSLETTER