Californians Relying on Bottled Water as Wells Dry Up

November 15, 2022

Above, water is an issue of justice as well as climate.

Washington Post:

Wells are running dry in California at a record pace. Amid a hotter, drier climate and the third consecutive year of severe drought, the state has already tallied a record 1,351 dry wells this year — nearly 40 percent over last year’s rate and the most since the state created its voluntary reporting system in 2014. The bulk of these outages slice through the center of the state, in the parched lowlands of the San Joaquin Valley, where residents compete with deep agricultural wells for the rapidly dwindling supply of groundwater.

Amid rows of almond and orange trees, entire communities are relying on deliveries of bottled water to survive. More than 2,400 homes in the region keep their taps running with emergency plastic water tanks installed in their yards by the nonprofit group Self-Help Enterprises. It sends around a fleet of trucks to fill the tanks, which hold 2,500 to 3,000 gallons, at least every two weeks. More than half of the tanks are new this year.

Tami McVay, Self-Help’s director of emergency services, expected this year’s spike in dry wells. But the sheer scope of the shortages this summer has been unsettling for her.

She has watched as groundwater in some places has fallen in one year by hundreds of feet. Last year, her organization made emergency bottled water deliveries after outages from dry or malfunctioning wells threatened the water supply in two communities. This year, that has happened in 20 communities.

“Mentally, I don’t think we were prepared to really kind of absorb how fast it was happening,” she said. “Overnight our phones just started ringing.”

The first sign of a failing well tends to be a softening of the water pressure. Brown patches in the lawn where sprinklers no longer reach. Garden hoses that pulse and fizz with aeration. Showers that slow to a trickle.

Groundwater is both the main source of water for many communities and a buffer that California relies on during drought. Normally, these underground reserves account for about 40 percent of the state’s water supply; in dry years, that grows to 60 percent. Of the 3,700 wells on the state’s live groundwater website that track levels over the past decade, nearly half of them are much below normal or at an all-time low.

“What we’re facing is pretty unprecedented,” said Steven Springhorn, an engineering geologist with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Office of California’s Department of Water Resources. “It’s very dry out there.”

Sharon Ramirez knew this, and she tried to conserve. She let her grass yellow and the vegetable garden die. Tomatoes, potatoes, butternut squash — all gone. In her bathroom, she only flushed solids, despite the embarrassment. She watched with agony as the trees she nurtured for years — the Chinese elm, the pistachio, the mulberry — appeared to weaken under the unrelenting sun.

The motor for the pump in her 348-foot well usually ran for 20 minutes to refill her tank. It began to take hours.

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3 Responses to “Californians Relying on Bottled Water as Wells Dry Up”

  1. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Implement strict scientific controls immediately despite costs and problems. It will be MUCH more painful in the future otherwise. Sent from my bulletproof, comfortable and unaffected armchair.


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