Tulare County near Fresno, California is out of water. There’s none available for bathing, flushing toilets, or doing dishes. What’s doubly strange about that is Tulare is just south of California’s lush Central Valley where most of the fruits and vegetables grown in the US come from. How could it have no water?

State officials say that at least 700 households have no access to running water, but they acknowledge that there could be hundreds more. The county only recently began aggressively tracking homes without running water. It delivers bottled water to hundreds of homes and is offering biweekly water deliveries using private donations and money from a state grant.

The local high school now allows students to arrive early and shower there. But some parents are keeping their children home from school if they have not bathed, worried that they could lose custody if the authorities deem the students too dirty, a rumor that county officials have tried hard to dismiss.

In August, the county placed a 5,000-gallon tank of water in front of a fire station on Lake Success Road, and plans to add a second soon. A sign in English and Spanish declares, “Do not use for drinking,” but officials suspect that many do.

“We will give people water as long as we have it, but the truth is, we don’t really know how long that will be,” said Andrew Lockman of the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services. “We can’t offer anyone a long-term solution right now. There is a massive gap between need and resources to deal with it.”

Much of the problem can be traced to a drought affecting many parts of California. Now in its third year, it is being felt in many ways: vanishing lakes and rivers, lost agricultural jobs, fallowed farmland, rising water bills, and suburban yards gone brown. But part of the problem is that agriculture is crucial to California’s economy. What water there is often gets diverted to farmers and growers, leaving the people to fend for themselves as best they can.

One solution for personal water security could be the atmospheric water generator. Operating much like a dehumidifier, it condenses and collects the moisture in the air. Small units can produce several gallons of water a day- and plans exist for a larger, wind and solar-powered commercial unit can squeeze thousands of gallons from the atmosphere every day. Unfortunately, these machines are not cheap and (for the moment) require electricity to operate, so most of the residents of Tulare County are too poor to afford such devices.

The debate continues about what is causing the drought in California, (hint: it’s probably the same thing causing droughts in Texas- namely, fracking), but knowing what the problem is won’t help the people of Tulare County, for whom there is no relief in sight.


Source: The New York Times