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New funding promises clean water for drought-stricken Tooleville

Tooleville, CA
Casey Beck
New state funding will help a drought-stricken Tulare County town get reliable access to safe drinking water.

After years of water shortages and contamination issues, a $7 million dollar grant from the state promises to help the town of Tooleville establish a reliable source of clean drinking water.

New funding from the California Department of Water Resources promises to help a struggling Tulare County town clean up its water and turn on its taps.

Tooleville, a rural community of about 200 people at the base of the Sierra Nevada, has only intermittently had water since its second well recently failed – the latest victim of California’s intensifying megadrought.

“It’s really hard,” says Maria Olivera, a longtime resident and Tooleville Mutual board secretary. “We have to keep gallon (jugs) by the stove to cook.”

Even when the well produces water, it’s often contaminated with unsafe levels of nitrates, a byproduct of nearby agriculture cultivation that can reduce oxygen levels in the blood.

But a $7.2 million state grant has Olivera hopeful for the first time in years, she says. The money will construct a new well in the nearby city of Exeter and connect its pipes to Tooleville through a process called consolidation.

The state took its first steps to order the consolidation last year but until recently progress had been slow. The funding is a game-changer says advocate Michael Claiborne, an attorney with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

“$7.2 million is fantastic and it moves this project forward and probably cuts a few years off the timeline for full consolidation,” he says.

A short-term fix should deliver clean water to Tooleville residents within six months while the full project is expected to take two years to complete.

Joshua Yeager is a Report For America corps reporter covering Kern County for KVPR.