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Springville residents irate over continued water outages, company blames residents

Springville resident Rafaella Woods’ yard has mostly died from lack of water.
Photo courtesy of Rafaella Woods
Springville resident Rafaella Woods’ yard has mostly died from lack of water.

More than a year after floods caused water outages in the small town of Springville in the Tulare County foothills, residents are still struggling with water loss and contamination.

Residents are furious with Del Oro Water Company, the private, for-profit company that serves the town, and blame it for the ongoing problems. But staff at Del Oro refute the accusations, blaming residents for overwatering.

Since mid-June, residents in the small, upscale Tulare County town have been turning on taps in their homes only to find no running water. The water outages come and go along with warnings from Del Oro not to drink the water because of contamination.

So far, residents say they haven’t been helped by anyone and temperatures are soaring.

“I am livid,” said Raffaella Woods, a Springville resident who has intermittently lost access to water in her home in recent weeks. “We had three days of triple digits and we had no water basically.”

Water is going out because the town’s storage tanks are running dry, said Woods. The reason is disputed.

Residents don’t understand why Del Oro can’t provide enough water. Residents say they are complying with Del Oro’s watering limitations which allow for one day of outdoor watering per week.

But Del Oro staff put the blame squarely on the residents.

“Many customers continue to outside water daily on their non-watering days,” wrote a spokesperson for Del Oro, via email. “Due to the high demand of water our wells are unable to keep the (3) storage tanks full, so water can be delivered.”

Residents say that’s a lie.

“They keep saying that we are over watering which we are freaking not,” said Woods. “All our yards are dead.”

There was a main line leak in June. It was repaired on June 25 and Del Oro bypassed the leak and pumped directly into the system until it was repaired, wrote the spokesperson.

Del Oro maintains that residents are overusing water. The spokesperson wrote that in the June billing month, the top 30 users in Springville used more than two million gallons of water and that the company has issued letters of “egregious water use” to 50 users.

Customers pay a base rate of about $150 per month regardless of water usage. About $78 of that goes toward paying back a $9 million state loan for a water treatment plant. That plant was supposed to be completed last year but still hasn’t come online. Del Oro staff is working with the state Water Resources Control Board to finalize all clearances, wrote the Del Oro spokesperson. Final testing and plans will be completed by next week.

That rate is going up because Del Oro is raising rates based on usage, on average, by nearly 6.6%. The company submitted the rate case to the state more than a year ago.

That has only added fuel to the fire with residents who don’t want to pay more when they don’t have consistent access to water.

“How long do we have to suffer?” wrote Carmen Freeland, resident of Springville, in an email chain on Monday. “They have the audacity to ask for a rate increase!!! Are you freaking kidding me?”

Staff from the state Water Board declined to comment because they are working on an active investigation in Springville.

This latest dispute comes after Springville residents and Del Oro sparred over the company’s handling of damage caused by the 2023 floods.

The March 10, 2023 floods destroyed six Del Oro wells in Springville and completely knocked out service. Three of those wells ultimately had to be abandoned. The company had seven remaining wells which met demand until usage went up during summer 2023 and residents lost water access.

Del Oro blamed residents for over watering, similar to the current dispute. But residents said that would have been impossible as they had no water. Even so, they were charged the full amount, which they brought to the attention of the California Public Utilities Commission last summer.

When contacted by SJV Water last year, the CPUC deferred to the Water Board.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley, www.sjvwater.org. Reach us at sjvwater@sjvwater.org.