News

Why is the Las Vegas Southern Nevada Water Authority paying homeowners $2.00 for every square foot of natural grass they remove? December 07 2015

Using community outreach and cash incentives, the area's Water Smart Landscaping Program has removed nearly 173 million square feet of natural grass. How much water is saved? OVER 9.5 BILLION GALLONS OF WATER PER YEAR, at 55 gallons per square foot.

After years of gentle prodding that included common-sense community seminars on water-saving tips, many Las Vegas lawns have now morphed into environmentally sustainable spaces with desert landscaping. In the long run, many homeowners realized they weren't really using the grass until they pushed a lawn mower across it.

California Governor Jerry Brown ordered that California rip up 50 million square feet of lawns to conserve water amid the devastating drought. California's 411 water districts are now offering rebates now as much as $3.75 per square foot, to persuade homeowners to give up on grass.


Drought shuts down Pacifica surfer showers October 03 2014

The latest casualty of California’s drought is showers for surfers.

The city of Pacifica, just south of San Francisco, announced Thursday that it will seek to save water by reducing the number of shower heads at three coastal spots popular with surfers.

Under the directive, shower heads at both Linda Mar Beach and Rockaway Beach will be reduced from two to one, and from four to two at Sharp Park near the pier.

City leaders did not immediately return phone calls, but the water department’s website said the city was working to conserve water, recently declaring a “Stage 2″ water shortage and putting in place restrictions on outdoor water use.

Pacifica’s water comes from Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy, which is owned and operated by San Francisco’s water agency.

In January, Gov. Brown declared a statewide drought emergency and urged communities to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent.


Thirst Turns to Desperation in Rural California October 02 2014

PORTERVILLE, Calif. — After a nine-hour day working at a citrus packing plant, her body covered in a sheen of fruit wax and dust, there is nothing Angelica Gallegos wants more than a hot shower, with steam to help clear her throat and lungs.

“I can just picture it, that feeling of finally being clean — really refreshed and clean,” Ms. Gallegos, 37, said one recent evening.

But she has not had running water for more than five months — nor is there any tap water in her near future — because of a punishing and relentless drought in California. In the Gallegos household and more than 500 others in Tulare County, residents cannot flush a toilet, fill a drinking glass, wash dishes or clothes, or even rinse their hands without reaching for a bottle or bucket.

Even more so than the Okies who came here fleeing the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, the people now living on this parched land are stuck. “We don’t have the money to move, and who would buy this house without water?” said Ms. Gallegos, who grew up in the area and shares a tidy mobile home with her husband and two daughters. “When you wake up in the middle of the night sick to your stomach, you have to think about where the water bottle is before you can use the toilet.”

Now in its third year, the state’s record-breaking drought is being felt in many ways: vanishing lakes and rivers, lost agricultural jobs, fallowed farmland, rising water bills, suburban yards gone brown. But nowhere is the situation as dire as in East Porterville, a small rural community in Tulare County where life’s daily routines have been completely upended by the drying of wells and, in turn, the disappearance of tap water.

“Everything has changed,” said Yolanda Serrato, 54, who has spent most of her life here. Until this summer, the lawn in front of her immaculate three-bedroom home was a lush green, with plants dotting the perimeter. As her neighbors’ wells began running dry, Ms. Serrato warned her three children that they should cut down on hourlong showers, but they mostly rebuffed her. “They kept saying, ‘No, no, Mama, you’re just too negative,’ ” she said.

Then the sink started to sputter. These days, the family of five relies on a water tank in front of their home that they received through a local charity. The sole neighbor with a working well allows them to hook up to his water at night, saving them from having to use buckets to flush toilets in the middle of the night. On a recent morning, there was still a bit of the neighbor’s well water left, trickling out the kitchen faucet, taking over 10 minutes to fill two three-quart pots.

“You don’t think of water as privilege until you don’t have it anymore,” said Ms. Serrato, whose husband works in the nearby fields. “We were very proud of making a life here for ourselves, for raising children here. We never ever expected to live this way.”

Like Ms. Serrato, the vast majority of residents here in the Sierra Nevada foothills are Mexican immigrants, drawn to the state’s Central Valley to work in the expansive agricultural fields. Many here have spent lifetimes scraping together money to buy their own small slice of land, often with a mobile home sitting on top. Hundreds of these homes are hooked to wells that are treated as private property: When the water is there, it is solely controlled by owners. Because the land is unincorporated, it is not part of a municipal water system, and connecting to one would be prohibitively expensive.

The Gallegos family’s drinking water comes only from bottles, mostly received through donations but sometimes bought at the gas station. For showering, washing dishes and flushing toilets, the family relies on buckets filled with water from a tank set in the front lawn, which Mr. Gallegos replenishes every other day at the county fire station. Often, the water runs out before he returns home from his job as a mechanic, forcing Ms. Gallegos to wait for hours before she can clean.

The family has spent hundreds of dollars to wash their clothes at the laundromat and on paper goods to avoid washing dishes. Ms. Gallegos recently told her 10-year-old daughter that there was no money left to pay for her after-school cheerleading club.

The local high school has begun allowing students to arrive early and shower there. Parents often keep their children home from school if they have not bathed, worried that they could lose custody if the authorities deem the students too dirty, a rumor that county officials have tried to dismiss. Mothers who normally take pride in their home-cooked meals now rely on canned and fast food, because washing fresh vegetables uses too much water.

Ms. Serrato and others receive help from a local charity organization, the Porterville Area Coordinating Council, which opens its doors each weekday morning to hand out water. A whiteboard displays the distribution system: Families of four receive three cases of bottled water and two gallon jugs, families of six get four cases and four gallon jugs, and so on.

For months, families called county and state officials asking what they should do when their water ran out, only to be told that there was no public agency that could help them.

“Nobody knows where to go, who to talk to: These aren’t people who rely on government to help,” said Donna Johnson, 72, an East Porterville resident whose own well went dry in July. As she began learning that hundreds of her neighbors were also out of water, she used her own money to buy gallons of water, handed them out of her truck and compiled a list of those in need. County officials rely on her list as the most complete snapshot of who needs help; dozens are added each day. “It’s a slow-moving disaster that nobody knows how to handle,” Ms. Johnson said.

State officials say that at least 700 households have no access to running water, but they acknowledge that there could be hundreds more, with many rural well-owners not knowing whom to contact. Tulare County, just south of Fresno, recently began aggressively tracking homes without running water, delivering bottles to hundreds of homes and offering applications for biweekly water deliveries, using private donations and money from a state grant. In August, the county placed a 5,000-gallon tank of water in front of a fire station on Lake Success Road, and plans to add a second soon. A sign in English and Spanish declares, “Do not use for drinking,” but officials suspect that many do.

“We will give people water as long as we have it, but the truth is, we don’t really know how long that will be,” said Andrew Lockman, who leads the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services. “We can’t offer anyone a long-term solution right now. There is a massive gap between need and resources to deal with it.”


Some California wells run dry amid drought September 30 2014

EAST PORTERVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Hundreds of domestic wells in California's drought-parched Central Valley farming region have run dry, leaving many residents to rely on donated bottles of drinking water to get by.

Girl Scouts have set up collection points while local charities are searching for money to install tanks next to homes. Officials truck in water for families in greatest need and put a large tank in front of the local firehouse for residents to fill up with water for bathing and flushing toilets.

About 290 families in East Porterville — a poor, largely Hispanic town of about 7,000 residents nestled against the Sierra Nevada foothills — have said their shallow wells are depleted. Officials say the rest of Tulare County has many more empty wells, but nobody has a precise count.

Other Central Valley counties also report pockets of homes with wells gone dry and no alternative water service.

"When you have water running in your house, everything is OK," said East Porterville resident Yolanda Serrato. "Once you don't have water, oh my goodness."

With California locked in its third year of drought and groundwater levels dropping, residents and farmers have been forced to drill deeper and deeper to find water. Lawmakers in Sacramento passed legislation to regulate groundwater pumping, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law this past week.

Three days later, Brown signed an executive order that provides money to buy drinking water for residents statewide whose wells have dried up, while also directing key state officials to work with counties and local agencies to find solutions for the shortages.

The State Water Resources Control Board had already allotted $500,000 to buy bottled water for East Porterville residents, said Bruce Burton of the board's Drinking Water Program.

But many East Porterville residents, like Serrato, say all they want is to get a glass of water from the kitchen sink. Her well dried up nearly two months ago, she said, making life challenging for her husband and three children.

To bathe, they each have to fill a bucket from a 300-gallon tank in the front yard, carry it inside and pour water over their heads with a cup. They've lived in their home for 21 years, she said. "It's not that easy to say, 'Let's go someplace else.' "

East Porterville sits along the Tule River, which starts high in the mountains and runs through the unincorporated town. Typically, river water permeates the sandy soil under the community, filling up wells as shallow as 30 feet deep. Not this year. Drought has caused the river to run dry, along with the wells.

Tulare County spokeswoman Denise England said East Porterville needs to get connected to the nearest water main in neighboring Porterville. That could cost more than $20 million and take up to five years, if the project didn't hit political snags, she said.

England said counting the number of dry wells is difficult because people don't come forward fearing their children will be taken away if their home lacks a safe water source, or they believe that their home would be condemned, making them homeless.

Officials have had to combat these rumors, she said, adding, "We're blindly feeling our way through this."

In the meantime, charities have stepped up. Local schools, businesses and a religious group in Cincinnati, Ohio, donated water to the community.

Elva Beltran's Porterville Area Coordinating Council has provided 46 homes with 300-gallon tanks, which are filled each week. The group has pallets of donated bottled water and stacks of blue buckets waiting to be distributed.

Beltran said every day a new family comes in seeking help. "They're hurting," she said. "We need water like we need air."

A local bank donated $50,000 to Self-Help Enterprise, so the housing nonprofit can provide more homes with water tanks.

Community development program director Paul Boyer said people have been creative, using solar bags to heat water for bathing and putting tanks in trees to increase water pressure. Boyer said it will be more difficult when it turns cold this winter.

"Families every night dream about water," Boyer said. "Every day they're thinking about how they're going to deal with water."

The well belonging to Vickie Yorba, 94, dried up in February. She now relies on a donated water tank in front of her small home that she and her late husband bought 66 years ago. A neighbor with a deeper well ran a garden hose to Yorba's home.

She is proud of how sparingly she uses water, likening it to the little used during trips she and her husband took years ago to the mountains.

"It isn't hard," she said. "Not if you know how to camp."


Drought forces Texas city to turn to toilets for tap water May 08 2014

Desperate drought conditions in parts of bone-dry Texas have called for desperate measures.

Residents of Wichita Falls, population 100,000, fear they will run out of water within two years. So city officials found a way to flush away their worries.

The city has built a new 13-mile pipeline connecting its waste treatment plant directly to a second facility that purifies drinking water. That means treated wastewater — not just from toilets, but from sinks, bathtubs and dishwashers — will no longer be released down river as before. Instead, it will soon flow out of household faucets.

"The water that's coming in to the water treatment plant has already been treated once at the wastewater plant. It's not receiving raw, untreated sewage,” Daniel Nix of Wichita Falls Public Works told NBC's Gabe Gutierrez.

But some people are calling the process “toilet to tap” and have already switched to bottled water.

"Just the very thought that you might be drinking your own wastewater is never comforting,” said Wichita Falls resident Tim McMillin.

Widespread drought has changed the way the nation thinks about water. Other areas, including Orange County, Calif., have added some treated wastewater to some of their drinking supply.

But the percentage being used in Wichita Falls, about half of the city’s tap water, will be the highest in the country.

"We don’t have any other options,” said resident Julie Spence, owner of Gidget’s Sandwich Shop.

City officials said the Texas Department of Environmental Quality expects to finish its testing process within the next 30 days.

Darron Leiker, Wichita Falls city manager, expressed confidence that everything will clear all safety criteria.

“It will meet or exceed all state and federal drinking standards,” he said.