Residents of Matheny Tract in Tulare County are frustrated that their long wait for clean water seems never to end, and the state of California appears ready to force action if no voluntary agreement is reached with the city of Tulare.
But a decision by regulators may not be to the liking of Matheny Tract advocates.
On Monday, the State Water Resources Control Board announced that two public meetings will be held near Matheny Tract, which is south of Tulare and currently gets water from Pratt Mutual Water Co. to serve about 280 homes.
Water from old wells has too much arsenic, forcing residents to use bottled water for drinking and cooking.
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To solve the problem, a water main was installed in 2013 from Tulare to Matheny Tract, paid for by a $4.9 million Proposition 84 state grant. The city agreed to supply water to Pratt under a contract.
Last year, the city said it wanted to sell the water wholesale to Pratt and let it take care of the billing and metering, because city employees have no jurisdiction outside city limits.
Lawyers for Pratt and Matheny Tract residents said they oppose wholesaling and want the two systems consolidated.
Now the state water board is weighing in, and wholesaling seems to be something regulators might order.
“The State Water Resources Control Board is considering action which would order City of Tulare to provide a supply of domestic water to Pratt Mutual Water Company and/or to order the City of Tulare to directly provide domestic water to persons now served by Pratt Mutual Water Company,” the meeting notice states.
Last year, the city sued Pratt and others, saying legal and technical issues – low water pressure is sometimes a problem – need to be resolved before water could go into the new water main, and seeking changes in a contract between the city and Pratt to supply water. The county and the Matheny Tract Committee, a group of residents pushing for community improvements, also were named as defendants.
A trial is set for April.
The county was dropped from the suit, and last week the Tulare County Board of Supervisors agreed to support a motion for a summary judgment that could result in a court order for Tulare to put water in the pipe to Matheny Tract.
Under the contract, Tulare agreed to consolidate the two water systems, which the city now does not want to do. Tulare City Attorney Martin Koczanowicz said state law allows for wholesaling.
But attorney Ward Stringham of Fresno said “there’s no wiggle room” under a new state law governing consolidation of small water systems. Besides, he said, Tulare already agreed to consolidation in the contract.
“Pratt Mutual just wants performance under the unequivocal terms of the contract,” he said.
For residents of Matheny Tract, the city is to blame for delays.
“They’re always finding some little thing,” said resident Michael Andrade, president of Pratt Mutual Water Co.
Matheny Tract water meetings
What: Public meetings by the State Water Resources Control Board to provide information on proposed action, answer questions, receive public comment and accept public testimony.
Where: Palo Verde Union School, 9637 Avenue 196
When: 6-8 p.m. March 3 and 6-8 p.m. March 17