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Drought

Tulare County officials say state red tape made water crisis, suffering worse for Teviston

 •  by Jesse Vad and Lois Henry
Teviston residents and officials were frustrated by California’s response when the town’s well broke during a heat wave, leaving the town without running water. FRESNO BEE FILE

This story was reported and written by Jesse Vad, SJV Water intern and Lois Henry, SJV Water CEO.

It was produced with funding and support from Fresnoland, for the Fresno Bee. Republishing is allowed 48 hours after initial posting. 

The state’s response to the water crisis that gripped tiny Teviston, California earlier this summer should have been a no brainer, according to Tulare County officials.

The rural central San Joaquin Valley county, with help from the state, had seen wells go dry en masse during the 2012-2016 drought leaving hundreds of families without water for months on end.

The county and state had seemingly worked out a game plan for that disaster and Tulare County had even regrouped its local drought task force earlier this spring as it saw this summer shaping up to be especially dry.

So, county officials and Teviston residents were more than a little frustrated by what they said was the state’s flat-footed response when Teviston’s well broke down June 9, leaving the town dry, as a brutal heat wave swept over the state.

At almost every turn, the state was more a hindrance than a help, said Denise England, Tulare County’s Water Resources Director.

According to England: Money to pay for large-scale emergency water was stuck in the bureaucratic pipeline. Arbitrary boundaries set by the state Division of Drinking Water forced haulers to drive an extra 40 miles a day trucking in water when closer sources were available. Drinking Water regulators balked at getting families water for swamp coolers, even as forecasts showed an extended period of days above 110 degrees.

Worst of all, England added, a family had to get their medically fragile child’s Stanford University doctor to plead for a 2,500-gallon tank after spending two weeks scrounging for water from friends’ houses.

“Check your notes from the last time,” said an exasperated England. “Or just get the money out to the counties. We can’t wait around.”

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Jesse Vad and Lois Henry
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