The California Drought and Resources for Relief

The three-year period between fall 2011 and fall 2014 was the driest on record, and recent reports suggest that California is headed into its fourth year of drought. In order to address this state of emergency, Governor Brown signed legislation to provide $687.4 million to support drought relief.

Thousands of Californians, many of who are living in small, rural, low-income communities are experiencing extreme and small impacts from the drought. In the worst cases, communities have run out of water completely.

The greatest challenge with water supply reliability and water quality throughout the state is the lack of help offered to small communities (small cities, rural counties, and unincorporated areas) that have little or no local funds, huge water infrastructure needs and few staff to help meet those needs.

Residents throughout California are being asked to make changes to their daily lifestyle in order to conserve water; however, for many communities in the Central Valley, using less water is not a choice. In communities like East Porterville, hundreds of wells have gone dry leaving several thousands of residents with insufficient clean water to meet their daily cooking and sanitation needs and are being forced to adapt to a life without basic water resources.

While some wells are going dry, others are testing positive for contaminants such as nitrates, arsenic and bacteria. Continuous drought conditions is forcing more groundwater pumping, causing water tables to sink and water pumps to lose pressure and suck in contaminants. As water contamination is becoming more concentrated, systems are forced to issue notices advising residents to not consume their water. Communities are being forced to turn on old, contaminated back-up wells, and residents are filling buckets from their neighbors’ water hoses in order to have enough water for basic sanitation. The drought is a deepening crisis being felt the hardest by the most vulnerable communities in the state, and it is their daily reality that compels us to take action.

State leaders in conjunction with local environmental justice and water groups in the central valley have just announced the Office of Sustainable Water Solutions as a new unit within the drinking water program at the State Water Resources Control Board.

The Office of Sustainable Water Solutions is designed to assist disproportionately impacted communities, those with small water and wastewater treatment facilities, obtain access to resources to address drinking water and other needs.

Groups supporting the new unit include Clean Water Action, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and El Centro Communitario Por El Agua (CWC).

Drought Relief

If you’re out of water or impacted by the drought, resources are available. Clean Water Action (CWC)/El Centro Comunitario Por El Agua can connect you with options for bottled water delivery, storage tanks, and funding for well drilling. CWC is working to leverage more resources for immediate and lasting solutions.

Please call CWC’s Visalia office at (559) 733-0219 if you would like to discuss drought relief options or be directed to your local resource. Here are several key resources CWC have available for you:

  • Tulare County is providing bottled drinking water to residents within the County who have contaminated drinking water and whose annual income is at or below 80% of the California median annual household income. The bilingual form to apply for emergency bottled drinking water is also available. CWC staff in Visalia are happy to help you complete and submit this form ((559) 733-0219). You can also call Andrew Lockman, Manager of the Office of Emergency Services for the County of Tulare, at (559) 624-7495. Bottled Water ProgramApplication (English & Spanish):


  • Tulare County and Self-Help Enterprises are collaborating on a pilot program to provide water storage tanks and hauled water. Not all properties qualify, and the costs associated with tank installation or hauling water may not be fully covered. If you’re interested in a tank and hauled non-potable water, please contact Jessi Snyder, Project Manager at Self-Help Enterprises, at (559) 651-1000 to see if you may qualify for assistance.


  •  Self-Help Enterprises (SHE) offers a well drilling assistance program. Self-Help is providing low-interest loans with a maximum of $11,000 to qualified homeowners for construction, refurbishment, or servicing of an individual household water well system through the Household Water Well System Program, funded by the USDA Rural Utilities Service. This program assists those who: reside in the rural areas of Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, Kings, Tulare, Fresno, or Kern Counties; own and occupy their home; and have a maximum household income of $62,883. For more information and specifics about the loan, please call SHE Loan Processor Julie Cabañas at (559) 802-1610. Water Well Application here(English & Spanish):


  • Self-Help Enterprises (SHE) Delivery of bottled drinking water: Depending on where you live, bottled water delivery may be available at no cost to you. Contact Self-Help Enterprises staff member Léon Romanazzi at (559) 802-1656 for more information.
    n Food boxes: The Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) administers the USDA’s Rural Development agency that offers a number of programs that may provide assistance for drought-impacted rural communities. Certain counties are distributing boxes of food to those who have been affected by the drought, including farmworkers and farmers.
    List of Counties and Contacts:

*Adapted from the El Centro Communitario Por El Agua.