Water & Drought

Tulare, Matheny Tract nearing agreement on clean water delivery

In October 2013, workers lay water pipe near Matheny Tract.
In October 2013, workers lay water pipe near Matheny Tract. lgriswold@fresnobee.com

Residents of Matheny Tract, a rural community south of Tulare where tap water is contaminated by arsenic, are close to an agreement to get clean water from nearby Tulare.

But they are not there yet.

An out-of-court settlement could be reached by Wednesday that could get the water flowing.

Meanwhile, a state agency held a community meeting Thursday near Matheny Tract on using a new state law to require Tulare to merge its water system with the smaller water provider now serving Matheny.

Advocates for Matheny Tract residents and the mayor of Tulare are expressing optimism that an agreement is near.

“We’re hoping we can get to a settlement now that the state has gotten more involved and trial is approaching,” said Ashley Werner, a lawyer for Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability representing the Matheny Tract Committee community action group.

Tulare Mayor David Macedo said it always has been the city’s intent to deliver water to Matheny Tract.

“We want to deliver the water,” he said. “We just want to agree on the terms. I can’t believe it has not been resolved yet.”

1,200Matheny Tract population

Two years ago, a new water main was laid connecting Matheny Tract to Tulare’s waterworks about a mile away. Tulare has clean water that would replace the arsenic-laden water delivered by Matheny’s aging water system.

The State Water Resources Control Board awarded $4.9 million in Proposition 84 funds to install the water main. The amount also will pay for water meters still to be installed.

At the time, it seemed that clean water would soon flow to the community of 300 homes and 1,200 people, where many speak only Spanish or trace their roots to the Dust Bowl.

Yet today, there is no clean water flowing in the new water main and many residents still are using bottled water for drinking and cooking.

Tulare refused to deliver the water, citing system capacity problems due to a well failure and legal issues involving jurisdiction outside city limits.

Advocates argued that the city must abide by a signed agreement to supply water and send the water bills to Matheny accounts no different than if they were inside city limits.

We want to deliver the water. We just want to agree on the terms.

David Macedo, Tulare mayor

At least one Tulare City Council member is siding with Matheny.

“I have been a supporter of that original agreement,” said Council Member Carlton Jones, the city’s vice mayor.

Javier Medina, 48, worries people in his community will get cancer drinking water that contains arsenic.

Medina, who has lived in Matheny Tract for 18 years, pays $35 a month for the dirty water, plus another $45 or so to buy bottled water for his family of six to cook and drink.

“That’s something that everyone should have – clean water,” he said. “I am also a bit worried since we only have one well. If it dries, what would we do?”

Medina said hooking up the new water main from Tulare would be good for the whole community.

“I think we are close to a resolution,” he said. “The whole community would be happy.”

That’s something that everyone should have – clean water.

Javier Medina, Matheny Tract

The city sued both the Matheny Tract Committee and Pratt Mutual Water Co., which delivers the arsenic-laden water via an aging system. The lawsuit seeks to change the water delivery contract on grounds that the city lacks the legal authority to operate outside city limits.

The city said it wanted to wholesale water to Pratt and let Pratt bill the customers.

The case is set for trial next month; a mandatory settlement conference is Wednesday.

Meanwhile, representatives of the State Water Resources Control Board held a public meeting Thursday evening at Palo Verde School.

At the hearing, residents said they want Tulare to stick with the original contract, Werner said.

Under a new state law, the board can require the city’s water system to merge with Pratt Mutual’s, she said.

“They have been clear that they will require consolidation,” Werner said.

The law went into effect last year and is so new that the board has yet to use it to require a merger.

Staff writer Andrea Castillo contributed to this story.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold