In a statewide first under a new law, Tulare has been ordered to merge its water system with the nearby Matheny Tract so the disadvantaged community can finally have clean tap water.
For years, Matheny’s water has had too much arsenic, forcing residents to buy bottled water to protect their health.
The State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water issued an order for mandatory consolidation on Wednesday and sent it to city officials.
Tulare has until June 1 to consolidate the city system with Pratt Mutual Water Co., which serves the community of about 300 homes and 1,200 people. Half the homes are rentals, most residents are Latino and 30 percent earn less than the federal poverty line.
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Advocates for Matheny Tract residents expressed relief that the state issued the order.
“It’s about time,” said Ashley Werner, a lawyer for the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability that represents the Matheny Tract Committee community action group.
It requires the city to initiate water service and fully consolidate its water system with Matheny Tract – exactly what our clients were seeking.
Ashley Werner, lawyer for Matheny Tract Committee
“It requires the city to initiate water service and fully consolidate its water system with Matheny Tract – exactly what our clients were seeking,” she said.
The Water Resources Control Board said Wednesday it’s the first time an order to consolidate has been issued under the new SB88 law that requires consolidation of water systems when public health is at issue.
Werner said the order bodes well for other water-system failures in the state where a merger could solve the problem.
The city welcomes the merger order as a key piece of an out-of-court settlement of lawsuits involving the Matheny Tract issue, Tulare City Councilman Craig Vejvoda said.
“I think it’s positive,” Vejvoda said. “This letter from the state is good news.”
Getting clean water to Matheny Tract has been a local controversy for about two years.
In 2014, a $4.9 million water main the state paid for using Proposition 84 funds was installed between Tulare and Matheny Tract.
Water meters have yet to be installed as part of the same project. That’s expected to happen in April and water should flow by June 1, Werner said.
Before the pipe was laid, Tulare agreed to deliver clean water from city wells. But the city later balked over unexpected system capacity issues and jurisdictional concerns about service connections outside city limits.
It sued Pratt Mutual and the Matheny Tract Committee to change the terms of the agreement, and the Matheny Tract Committee and Pratt countersued. The cases were to go to trial next month but are being settled out of court.
Vejvoda said the previous agreement was vague and left Tulare residents on the hook for some costs related to delivering water to Matheny. But city officials told him that the state will now cover those costs.
“We don’t have to subsidize it from other ratepayers,” he said.
The city will also provide water to Soults Tract, a small community next to the city limits in west Tulare where wells have gone dry in the drought, he said.
Two weeks ago, officials from the Division of Drinking Water held a public meeting near Matheny Tract. About 100 people attended and urged the state to require the city to deliver the water.
News that the state ordered the water systems to consolidate is welcome in Matheny Tract, said Javier Medina, a member of the Matheny Tract Committee. His family fills up water jugs for drinking and cooking about once a week.
“Everybody is extremely happy,” he said. “It’s a good thing so we don’t have to get bottles of water.”