Bottled water going to residents in western Fresno County

Cantua Water Delivery

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Most residents in the western Fresno County communities of Cantua Creek and El Porvenir drive out of town to buy drinking water, sometimes spending more than $100 monthly. But now drinking water is coming to them.

The first water deliveries made possible from a $300,000 state grant began last week and will provide bottled drinking water to the two communities that are home mostly to farmworkers. Residents say the monthly deliveries mean they don’t have to drive 20 minutes to buy drinking water from machines or at grocery stores.

Rosario Rodriguez and Jose Luis Gonzalez of El Porvenir have been driving their Ford Expedition 36 miles to Mendota and back to buy water. By the time they were done each week, the trip cost $10 in gas and about $20 for water. On top of that, they pay $110 a month for water piped into their home that is tainted with disinfectants, water they say they are hesitant to even bathe in.

“If we had to use our 5-gallon jugs of water for bathing, we couldn’t live,” Rodriguez said. “We would spend all our money on water.”

She said their two children sometimes get bumps on their skin. After changing laundry detergents, she spoke with her doctor, who told her the skin condition is related to bathing in the tainted water.

In Cantua Creek, Blanca Gomez said she drives 30 miles each way to Kerman in her compact car. She said she can’t combine trips for grocery shopping or other errands because the 5-gallon bottles take up all the space.

Having water deliveries to Cantua Creek is “going to help a lot,” she said.

California Rural Legal Assistance applied for the grant. It’s likely to reduce tap water consumption by residents in Cantua Creek and El Porvenir and bring the two communities clean drinking water, said Janaki Jagannath, a community worker for the advocacy group. She said many residents pay $40 per month for bottled water, which is used for cooking and drinking. Others with large households spend up to $120 per month, she said.

“The state stepped in because of the public health problem that would have ensued,” she said.

Under the grant program, California Rural Legal Assistance will send invoices to the state for the water, which is delivered by Sparkletts.

Even if this water lasted us two weeks, it would be a big help.

Arcelia Luna of Cantua Creek

The six boxes filled with gallon jugs of water stacked in Ruben and Arcelia Luna’s driveway were welcome.

“Even if this water lasted us two weeks, it would be a big help,” Arcelia Luna said.

Cantua Creek and El Porvenir have about 125 customers, many of whom rely on work in the fields of western Fresno County.

Earlier this year, residents of Cantua Creek voted against agreeing to be charged more for water. Because of that vote, the community’s water was going to be shut off in May. A state grant of $88,212 made up the difference between the old and new bills for the town’s 75 customers and kept tap water flowing.

State funding helped fill the gap between the previous $74 bill and the proposed $107 per month rate. Under an agreement with residents of Cantua Creek approved last month, the state and county proposed keeping the bills at the lower level as long as residents use 50 gallons or less per day per person.

Both communities are in county service areas. Residents are billed by the county, which pays Westlands Water District for the water. The water contains higher than allowed levels of disinfectants used to clean it, but county officials say the water is drinkable, but shouldn’t be consumed for decades.

Water rates were going up because of the higher price of water, which comes from Westlands. It was projected to cost more $1,144 per acre-foot – but went down to $903 per acre-foot – which still would have pushed residents’ monthly bills nearly 50 percent higher. The price last year was $348 per acre-foot.

Residents of El Porvenir, three miles west of Cantua Creek, are expected to vote on their water fees next year, county officials say. The residents will likely reject higher rates, said Rodriguez. They already pay $110 per month.

The state stepped in because of the public health problem that would have ensued.

Janaki Jagannath, California Rural Legal Assistance

The water delivery grant is part of a multipronged program that is scheduled to bring the communities clean drinking water from a single, modern water plant in about three years. The plant is in the process of being designed by county officials who also want to add other nearby small communities into the plant’s service area. The more connections, presumably the less water will cost for residents, said John Thompson, Fresno County’s deputy director of resources and administration.

With the addition of some outlying communities, the customer base could grow to between 140 and 150. The county got $725,000 from the state to plan and design the new system. Because Cantua Creek and El Porvenir are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, each is eligible for a $3 million grant – a total of $6 million – to build the water plant.

The communities participating will depend on the cost per mile to install piping and other fees to pay for maintenance and operation of the plant, Thompson said.

“We will have to look at who is going to be consolidated and how it’s fiscally going to work,” he said.

By combining the two county service areas and other nearby communities, more water can run through the treatment plant, improving its cleanliness.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin