This week in Fresnoland, Cassandra reported on the latest in the fight by residents at the Trails’ End Mobile Home Park to improve living conditions after two fires this spring left one resident dead. City crews were out at the park this week removing trash and debris, but questions remain about how habitability will improve and whether residents will be displaced as a result of the improvements.

It’s Danielle Bergstrom, here today. I’m back after a much needed vacation!

July has barely begun, and drought is already wreaking havoc on drinking water supplies across the San Joaquin Valley. The effects are largely felt in working class Latino communities. But any smaller system without a diversity of water sources is also feeling the pinch right now, too.

Last week, our colleague Melissa Montalvo at The Fresno Bee wrote about the Tulare County town of Teviston, a predominantly Latino farmworker community, whose only well went dry in the middle of a heat wave. The week before, I reported on how Madera County is emerging as the dry well hot spot of this drought. Avenal (in Kings County) has also reported that they may run out of water that they typically receive through the California Aqueduct in August.

Earlier in May, a well serving the community of Tombstone Territory, near Sanger, failed as well.

The 2012-2016 drought prompted a lot of changes in policies — from groundwater management to mandatory water consumption limits for water suppliers to major increases in funding for projects that are supposed to secure drinking water supplies across the Valley.

A lot of those changes are long-term solutions. Some anticipate things will even get worse. (A new report from Darcy Bostic at the Pacific Institute last week found that even with the state’s new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in place, 42% of public supply wells in the San Joaquin Valley are expected to go dry.)

What have we learned for our current moment? I spoke with Erick Orellana, a policy advocate with Visalia-based Community Water Center, to learn more. Our conversation has been edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

Where are you seeing the worst impacts of the drought so far?

In recent weeks and months, we have had residents from the Madera County area calling us because they didn’t know where to turn to when their domestic wells went dry. We’re seeing Fresno County residents with domestic wells experiencing the same drought impacts that thousands of East Porterville residents experienced during the last drought. Overall, devastating drought impacts are already being felt by residents across the Central Valley. Unfortunately, because of systemic racism, communities of color are disproportionately experiencing the worst of the drought impacts.

How does the drought response so far compare from the last drought?

The state has learned many lessons from the last drought and they have been working with community outreach groups, like Self-Help Enterprises, to help support emergency response over the last months. Despite the state’s efforts, there is little to no proactive outreach efforts to help low-income communities understand their risk of potential drought impacts. This is a huge gap that must be addressed through a coordinated effort between the state, counties, and Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), which were created as a result of the last drought through the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA).

Where is there room for improvement?

In addition to community outreach, the State of California does not have proactive drought preparedness plans in place for our most vulnerable communities that are served by small water suppliers, or for self-supplied communities (AKA, domestic well communities).

This lack of planning leaves hundreds of thousands of Californians at risk of going without water to meet their basic needs. We also need further investment in infrastructure resiliency measures — including better well levels monitoring and ensuring communities are not reliant on only one well.

(Read more about planning for drought in the valley’s small Latino communities.)

We would still like to see more collaboration with community based organizations to shape, for example, the implementation of hundreds of millions in drought funding that the Department of Water Resources is about to receive.

What is predictable about what’s happening right now? What surprised you?

Nothing about this drought is new nor unpredictable, other than perhaps the speed and severity. For years, we’ve known that droughts would become more intense and more frequent as a result of climate change. We’ve known that unsustainable practices from the agricultural industry would exacerbate drought conditions and impact residents’ drinking water supply to the point where they lose access to clean and safe drinking water.

What are you most worried about right now?

I’m worried that the multibillion-dollar agriculture industry will continue to protect its profits and absolve itself from the responsibilities placed onto it by SGMA, while communities across the Central Valley bear the cost of unsustainable practices and impacts of climate change. We must protect Californians’ human right to water and stop subsidizing industries that harm our environment and communities.

What does this drought tell you about how we should approach water policy in the future?

We cannot develop water policy without an acknowledgment of the inequitable laws that have brought us to where we are today. Future water policies must acknowledge the disinvestment in low-income families and communities of color. We must also acknowledge the state’s failure to include these communities in decisionmaking processes and lead with equity to ensure that all communities’ human right to water is honored and protected.

This week in local public meetings

Documenter Andy Hansen-Smith live-tweeted the Fresno City Council meeting on June 24, where the council approved a $1.5 billion budget, approved the list of transportation projects eligible for state gas tax (SB1) funding, and approved a litany of contracts, from homelessness prevention to waste removal to exploring a new Business Improvement District for South Blackstone Avenue. Read the full tweet thread here.

At the Clovis Planning Commission meeting on June 24, documenter Heather Halsey Martinez approved a Door Dash Mart convenience store (without alcohol sales); two drive-thrus on Shaw east of SR 168; and, a 17-lot single-family subdivision on Shaw and Locan adjacent to Legacy Square. Read the full report here.

At the Kerman City Council meeting on June 23, documenter Ramiro Merino reported that the council approved a $42.48 million budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year on the consent calendar without public comment. They also increased the budget for the city’s legal services contract and discussed $200,000 of improvements that could be made to improve safe routes to schools. Read the full report here.

At the North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency (representing southwest Fresno County) meeting on June 23, documenter Josef Sibala reported that directors discussed a new state airborne survey to assess groundwater conditions as well as the state of current public outreach efforts. Read the full report here.

At the Reedley City Council meeting on June 22, documenter Ramiro Merino reported the council approved an increase in fees to a landscaping maintenance district and the city engineer hosted a workshop on landscape maintenance districts. The council also voted to waive rent for the River City Theater Company, a tenant of the Reedley Opera House. Read the full report here.

At the Mendota City Council meeting on June 22, documenter Rachel Youdelman reported that the council discussed a disruption on water supply expected on July 5th due to bridge repairs as well as future water conservation measures likely needed. The council also extended the Enhanced Economic Incentive Zone. Read the full report here.

At the Fresno Housing Authority meeting on June 22, documenter Heather Halsey Martinez reported that the commissioners approved a funding application to build a new 61-unit affordable housing development in Huron; postponed action on funding applications for two other affordable housing projects, approved the conversion of senior affordable housing in Sanger to a voucher-based program, and announced that their annual plan will be presented at the July 28 meeting. Read the full report here.

At the Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting on June 22, documenter Rachel Youdelman reported that the supervisors approved their fiscal year 2021-22 budget recommendation but that it will not be formally adopted until September. Additionally, the supervisors had further comments on redistricting and mentioned that Supervisors Brandau and Magsig will meet with County Clerk James Kus and active residents with concerns in the coming weeks. Read the full report here.

At the Clovis City Council meeting on June 21, documenter Heather Halsey Martinez reported that the council approved an annexation and new residential subdivision on Locan and Teague Avenues; moved a proposed 55-unit affordable housing development on DeWolf Avenue forward; and, the council rejected suggestions by a developer to modify single-family residential development standards to reduce setbacks. Read the full report here.

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