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Jun 22, 7:55 PM EDT

State: Dry California town soon to have running water return



FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- Families in a poor farming community where hundreds of domestic wells have dried up during California's historic drought will soon have clean water again flowing into their homes, officials said Wednesday.

The state announced plans to spend $10 million to begin connecting unincorporated East Porterville in Tulare County to the water system of neighboring Porterville.

With the news, Tomas Garcia, 51, said hope is returning to his neighborhood. The well his family of four depended on for decades ran dry two years ago.

"Water should be for all, you know, not just for the rich people," said Garcia, who works at a tire shop. "We're part of the community."

East Porterville - a largely Latino community of about 7,000 people nestled against the Sierra Nevada foothills between Fresno and Bakersfield - drew broad attention two years ago when wells began drying up, forcing residents to drink bottled water and have large tanks installed next to their homes to wash and flush toilets.

Many use portable showers set up in at a church parking lot.

Officials say they plan to have up to 500 homes connected to a water line by the end of the year in the first stage of work.

Hundreds more with shallow or contaminated wells should be connected by the end of 2017, officials said, but those plans and the cost have not been finalized.

Each connection is expected to cost up to $4,000, which the state will cover, and only disadvantaged residents are eligible.

"I'm confident we're going to begin seeing in the very near future some connections and solutions to these residents who have suffered far too great for far too long," said Eric Lamoureux of the California Office of Emergency Services.

Statewide, officials said roughly 2,000 wells have run dry during California's most severe drought on record and stretching into its fifth year. Roughly 1,200 of the dry wells are in Tulare County, many clustered in East Porterville, where some are often just 30 feet deep.

California has spent nearly $16 million delivering bottled water and setting up large tanks in response to the emergency. Of that, more than $11 million was spent in Tulare County, the nation's leader in agriculture production.

Garcia, who organized a group called East Porterville for Water Justice and has two young daughters, said it is hard to believe that in the United States today families like his don't have reliable water at home. He said that will soon change.

"Everything looks pretty good," he said. "I hope by the end of the year some residents are going to be hooked up."

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