In what could bode well for other small water systems in California, the city of Tulare will merge its water system with Pratt Mutual Water Co., which serves the neighboring disadvantaged community of Matheny Tract’s 1,200 residents.
On Wednesday, the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water issued an order for mandatory consolidation by June 1 and sent it to city officials.
For years, Matheny Tract residents could not safely drink their tap water because arsenic levels were high. Homes there are mostly rentals, the majority of residents are Latino and 30 percent earn less than the federal poverty line.
The state order requiring the eventual merger resolves an ongoing dispute between the community and City of Tulare that was headed to court next month for a trial to determine how to resolve how or if water was to be provided to the Matheny Tract community. Back in 2014, the state authorized the use of Proposition 84 funds to install a $4.9 million water main between Tulare and Matheny Tract. That project has been completed except for the installation of water meters and individual house connections. Now it is anticipated clean safe drinking water will be available to local residents in June of this year.
Rural Community Assistance Corporation’s (RCAC) loan fund provided a $1.9 million line of credit to the Pratt Mutual Water Company which was needed to allow construction to proceed and to provide funds needed so timely payments could be made to the contractor doing the work. Throughout the process, Self-Help Enterprises provided technical assistance to the Mutual Water Company to secure the state funding and manage the project. RCAC also cooperated by providing a no cost extension of its loan commitment.
Prior to the water main installation, Tulare had agreed to deliver clean water to Matheny but later reneged, citing unforeseen system capacity problems and jurisdictional concerns.
Matheny Tract residents, meanwhile, expressed relief over the order.
“Everybody is extremely happy,” Javier Medina, a Matheny Tract Committee member, told the Fresno Bee newspaper. “It’s a good thing so we don’t have to get bottles of water.”