By Dawn Van Dyke, RCAC communications manager

California’s severe drought continues with no end in sight and families across the state face life without water—something most of us can only imagine—as wells run dry.

Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) has been helping homeowners through the California household/small water system drought assistance (HSWSDA) loan/grant program.

California’s Governor directed that $5 million of $15 million allocated for drought relief in 2014 be used to assist individual households and small water systems dealing with drought-related drinking water emergencies. After receiving a $1 million grant from the California Water Resources Board in June, RCAC’s loan fund and environmental programs staff began to work together to help homeowners find relief. Some of these homeowners have had dry wells since 2014.

This program provides loan or grant funds, up to $45,000 per household, to drill new wells. Household income determines whether funds are loaned or granted. Loans carry an interest rate of 0 to 3 percent depending on repayment ability. This program enables RCAC to provide more funding per household than previous programs, which is important as wells dry up across the state and the cost to drill new wells increases.

“The cost for well drilling has gone up tremendously with the drought and demand,” said Michael Carroll RCAC’s director, lending and housing.

Even with funds in hand, homeowners may wait up to six months before a well driller is available to start work.

To access funds, homeowners must first submit an application for RCAC loan officer Cynthia Elliott’s review. Once she determines that they are eligible for the program, she sends a referral to RCAC project coordinator Thi Pham, who will perform a pre-drilling inspection on site.

If a well is obviously dry, Pham will complete a check list and send it to Elliott, who will process the paperwork and get the funds disbursed. The well must be dry, or about to go dry, to qualify for funds. If the well is dry, Pham is required to update the state’s dry well database with information about well location and depth.

If the well is still producing water, Pham performs a flow-rate test to determine how much water it is producing. In some cases, a faulty pump could be the source of the problem, or the well could be what is referred to as “low yielding.” In those cases, RCAC environmental staff will help the homeowner determine the best course of action.

After a new well is constructed, and before homeowners can drink the water, Pham makes another site visit to provide education about how to conduct water quality sampling, the health risks of certain contaminants and water treatment options.

Among those benefitting from RCAC’s participation in the program, was Bonnie Nelson of Paso Robles. In June 2014, she discovered that the well at her elderly mother’s house had run dry. After Nelson’s mother died, Nelson planned to move into the house and at about the same time, she learned of RCAC’s well program. With Elliott’s assistance, Nelson was put on a drilling wait list. Pham performed the pre-drilling inspection.

“When she got involved, she drove all the way over here, God love her, and tested the well,” says Nelson.

RCAC’s regional environmental manager, Dave Wallis, also assisted with the pre-drilling inspection that determined the well was indeed dry. Elliott helped Nelson collect bids and worked with the drilling company. Once the new well’s construction is complete, Nelson can move into the house.

The program began June 30 and nearly all of the funds are already obligated, a testament to the severity of the problem statewide. Pham and RCAC technical assistance program manager, David Wallis, continue to perform the site inspections, with 26 grants and seven loans approved or pending.

RCAC set aside $100,000 for residents in rural San Diego who have been on a waiting list for assistance and temporary water tanks, which the County of San Diego recently contracted with RCAC to install. These residents may qualify for loans or grants to drill new wells. Small water systems with less than 15 connections are also eligible for assistance, but to date none have submitted applications.

Several new wells are currently under construction. Soon homeowners forced for years to use bottled water, emergency water tanks, and in some cases, hook up to neighbors’ water mains, will enjoy the simple pleasure of turning on the faucet to see running water.