For 40 years, Debra Hollingshed has made her home in Matheny Tract, where the water is contaminated with arsenic and nitrates.
"It's still drinkable, but gets less and less drinkable," said Hollingshed, a board member of Pratt Mutual Water Co., which supplies the water to the rural residential subdivision south of Tulare. "Our system is old. People here are poor. They can't pool a bunch of money to replace it."
But clean water is on the way.
A $4.9 million grant from the state Department of Public Health is paying to connect Matheny Tract to Tulare's water system about a mile to the north.
The upgrade shows that connecting to the nearest city is a practical way to solve the bad water problem plaguing some small, rural towns in the San Joaquin Valley, said Lew Nelson, Tulare's public works director.
Last week, a work crew from West Valley Construction continued digging a trench and laying the mile-long water line to Matheny Tract.
Next summer, the community's 320 homes can begin hooking up to city water.
"I welcome it," said resident Manuel Martinez. "I don't even like to take showers with the water here."
He has been buying bottled water at $1.25 per 5-gallon jug and although he won't have to buy the jug water anymore, he is worried that his water bill might go up more than he likes.
Currently, residents pay Pratt Mutual a flat rate of $35 a month because there are no water meters. But the new water supply requires meters.
Water bills depend on usage and will vary, but the estimated average monthly water bill in Tulare next year will be $42, the city said.
Fixing Matheny's water problem was a group effort.
Attorney Phoebe Seaton, formerly of California Rural Legal Assistance and now with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, said the CRLA pressured the city to help Matheny.
Nelson said he advised the city's water utility board to add Matheny Tract because "it's the right thing to do."
Pratt Mutual Water Co. agreed to give up its role as the community's water supplier and hired Provost and Pritchard Engineering, which designed the system, and the contractor West Valley Construction.
And Self-Help Enterprises, a Visalia-based nonprofit that helps small communities plan water and sewer projects, applied for the state grant.
Lewis Griswold covers the news of Tulare and Kings counties for The Bee. His column runs Sunday. He can be reached at (559) 441-6104, firstname.lastname@example.org or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.