Drought conditions in parts of California are now so harsh that it has become normal to turn on the tap and have no water coming out. In the small San Joaquin Valley town of East Porterville, more than 600 household wells went dry this summer, leaving more than half the population without water.
“I’ve been without running water for the last three months,” says Gilberto Sandoval, 81. “No water whatsoever.”
Sandoval’s age and bad leg have kept him from going very far to find water so he turned to neighbors, asking if they could spare some.
“I use one of those store carts,” Sandoval says, “fill it with jugs and walk in either direction and ask people, ‘Will you give me water to take back home?’ ”
In the last few days, the church across the street from his house, Iglesia Emmanuel, got hold of a pallet of water bottles that Sandoval can use that until they run out. But the last time he had a warm shower was more than a month ago at his daughter’s house.
That is, until Tulare County stepped in. Last week, the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services pulled up three flatbed trucks at Iglesia Emmanuel, each truck carrying a portable building with rows of doors.
Open a door and you enter a room just big enough for a white fiberglass shower, three shelves for belongings and a stool. The water pouring from the showerheads comes from a hose connected to the water main in the neighboring city of Porterville.
The showers are funded with state and federal money. Andrew Lockman, with Tulare County’s emergency services office, says hot showers are a health issue in this neighborhood.
“We recognized as the weather gets colder here in wintertime,” Lockman says, “that folks taking baths and showers using water out of buckets -- when the ambient temperature was nice that works. It does not work anymore in the winter.”
For people who live in warm houses, a bucket bath would suffice. But in East Porterville, living conditions are poor. Many residents live in trailers with failing roofs and have a hard time paying bills because of seasonal agricultural work. Gilberto Sandoval lives in one of those homes. He was coughing the day he spoke with The California Report, and he says cold showers would worsen his health conditions.
“This program here is a good thing,” Sandoval says. “I’m picking up trash in the back and then I’m gonna go and get a towel and a soap. I’m gonna go into the shower.”
Tulare County plans to run the showers for the next six months. But if the drought persists, the showers may stay up even longer.
In the new year Lockman hopes to begin a household tank program since the drought isn’t showing signs of letting up. Each applicant with a dry well will receive a tank where he or she can store potable water, brought in by delivery trucks.