Assembly Member Henry T. Perea introduced plans Friday in Fresno for a bill to reauthorize $15 million to supply water to drought-stricken communities.
His bill, the Emergency Drinking Water and Drought Relief Act, was prompted by water issues in Cantua Creek, where residents told Fresno County supervisors they couldn’t afford higher water bills. Cantua Creek’s rates to acquire water from Westlands Water District have triple.
Last month, residents voted against paying $100 per month for water. The rates are now about $72 per month. It is recommended that residents don’t drink the water in Cantua Creek because of high levels of contaminant disinfectants. Without the rate increase, their water will be shut off in mid-May. County officials met with Cantua Creek residents Thursday night and suggested an alternative water use plan that would keep rates from going up as high as originally proposed. Resident Leticia Fernandez said residents did not support the county’s proposal.
Perea, D-Fresno, flanked by Fernandez and Fresno County supervisors Brian Pacheco and Henry R. Perea, said “our residents should not be faced with a choice between putting food or water on the table.”
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Under the $15 million state bill for drought-affected communities approved last year, Cantua Creek can get bottled water, water-filling stations and community showers if the town’s water is shut off. He said the existing fund approved last year has enough money to pay for Cantua Creek’s needs, but many more communities will likely face similar problems, requiring a new infusion of cash into the program.
In addition, he said, the state is exploring whether Cantua Creek residents can get aid through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that would temporarily subsidize water costs.
“We know right now that we are in year two or year three of what some are saying is a five- or seven-year drought, so we know that Cantua Creek is not the only community that is going to experience these conditions,” he said.
The state has approved planning and engineering money for Fresno County to design a system for Cantua Creek and neighboring communities, including El Porvenir, where residents pay more than $100 per month for water.