Valley Voices

Donna Johnson: Valley volunteer joins bottled water distributors to help drought victims

Donna Johnson, left, comforts Angelica Gallegos after Gallegos had bottled water delivered to her home on Conner Street in East Porterville in August 2014. Many residents of East Porterville still are getting no water or limited water from their wells because of the drought.
Donna Johnson, left, comforts Angelica Gallegos after Gallegos had bottled water delivered to her home on Conner Street in East Porterville in August 2014. Many residents of East Porterville still are getting no water or limited water from their wells because of the drought. Fresno Bee Staff Photo/File 2014

Just over one year ago, the well went dry at my house. We had no running water.

Once I started talking with neighbors, friends and families throughout Porterville, it became clear that we weren’t the only ones. And the problem keeps getting worse. Currently, there are thousands of our families throughout Porterville and Tulare County that have no running water.

While our state leaders continue to debate a variety of long-term solutions to California’s water crisis, I am proud that our community has come together with creative ideas to help in the short term. Church and community leaders have teamed with relief organizations and others to help us bridge the gap. And just recently, I was proud to stand with California’s bottled water providers to bring in over 100,000 servings of bottled water to help alleviate some of the challenges facing our local families.

These generous donations are being distributed throughout East Porterville by our emergency services teams at a time when wells have run dry and families have few, if any, options for safe, clean and reliable water.

Although we are forecast to have a solid winter rain season, even El Niño, this problem cannot be solved in one year. California’s extreme drought situation took years to develop – and we must be prepared that it will take time to remedy.

During short-term emergencies, such as a fire or earthquake, or long-term crises, such as California’s drought, bottled water is essential. I have watched my neighbors suffer through asthma and other respiratory diseases as a result of increased dust permeating our air. In addition to all the many health and safety issues raised during such a crisis, there is the very real fact that water is a vital resource for life, and people will die without it.

As I make frequent trips throughout our neighborhoods to deliver water to families who desperately need it, I have seen firsthand how essential bottled water is to my neighbors who have no running water.

Strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, bottled water is the safest, healthiest and cleanest alternative when tap water is unavailable or unsafe. It is also important to know that bottled water providers work hard to limit the amount of water used in their production facilities. The bottled water industry uses just 0.02 percent of all water used throughout the state. That’s more than worth it for the families who now rely on bottled water for their homes.

I see the pain and hardship the drought and our dry wells are causing for the families in Porterville. Many must travel to makeshift areas just to shower or brush their teeth. That’s why I work hard to deliver water to the homes of the elderly, sick and those families that are desperately relying on bottled water donations for their livelihood.

The generosity of these companies is greatly appreciated in our community and will stem the tide for now. I am honored to work with these donors, who are helping our community navigate the drought. I also pray that long-term solutions are found to alleviate these Third World conditions faced by our neighbors.

Donna Johnson, known locally as the water angel, was recently recognized as California’s 2015 Volunteer of the Year at the Governor’s Volunteering and Service Awards. She was honored for spending countless hours and personal resources to deliver water to residents of East Porterville and Tulare County. She also recently joined California bottled water providers to bring over 100,000 servings of bottled water to her neighbors and local families.

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