West Goshen — When Ron Summers turned on the faucet in his home this week, no water came out.
Summers, a board member of West Goshen Mutual Water Company, soon learned that the well serving the rural Tulare County community had stopped working again.
But even if the water had flowed, Summers wouldn't have poured himself a glassful -- it's been unsafe to drink for more than a year.
Now, thanks to geography, government money and good intentions, water quality and supply problems bedeviling the community of 80 homes are about to become history.
On Tuesday, Summers and fellow board members held a ceremonial groundbreaking for a project to lay 1.2 miles of water main to their community from Goshen, where California Water Service has a well.
"It's got to be better than getting up in the morning and wondering if there's water," Summers said.
Largely funded by the California Department of Public Health, the West Goshen pipe-laying project could serve as a model for some small communities in the Valley struggling with contaminated drinking water.
West Goshen's problems started more than a year ago when a 50-year-old well went out and could not be fixed, and the second well, also on its last legs, pumped water contaminated with non-fecal coliform bacteria from soil that entered the system through broken pipes.
Self-Help Enterprises, a Visalia nonprofit that assists small communities, offered to help the water company by arranging meetings with public officials and California Water Service, and by seeking government grants.
The Department of Public Health awarded two grants totaling $3.25 million, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board chipped in $150,000.
The first phase of the project costing about $900,000 will lay the pipe from Goshen and hook up to the existing system. Construction starts this week and should be completed in a month and a half, said California Water Service manager Scott Bailey.
"The biggest thing is safe drinking water," he said. "It's long overdue."
West Goshen is fortunate in being close to a water system that could accept new customers, said Jessi Snyder, community development specialist at Self-Help.
"If you can combine a smaller system with a larger one, that's great," Snyder said. "It really is a long-term permanent solution."
The second phase of the project will replace the existing water system piping in West Goshen and install water meters.
Water bills are now a flat rate of $50 a month for most homes and may rise to a $75 monthly flat rate before the meters are installed, said Lucy Hernandez, president of the West Goshen Mutual Water Co.
"I'm very glad," Hernandez said. "This is like a blessing for our community."
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