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I have  been photographing East Porterville and the drought now for over 2 years.  With the promise of an El Nino winter and heavy rains,  there is a concern that the long term issues related to drought will be pushed aside and the residents of East Porterville, who for the last two years saw their wells run dry, their working hours cut back and food prices rise, will be forgotten until the rains stop again or water is diverted from the wells due to arcane water rights of farmers upstream.

Meanwhile on  a cloudy December morning, the first rains of the season have come, bringing back the color green to the hills surrounding Porterville. The Southern Operations Area of the US Army Corps of Engineers is starting to clear away willow trees and debris that have accumulated over the last 4 years at the Lake Success reservoir. This will help ensure that the flood control mechanisms remain in working order, even if the reservoir/lake is at a recorded capacity of only 10,000 acre feet (Dec 2015).  At full capacity the lake holds 83,000 acre feet of water.


It is hard to believe that East Porterville is subject to flooding with over 500 private wells have dried up.  The County continues to install 2,500 gallon water tanks to residents in need but it is often a slow, complicated process. After a long wait, Juana Garcia and her two children finally have a tank.  So does Vickie Yorba. She is 95 years old and has never seen the water situation as bad as it is now,but she continues to pray that it will get better. She does not want to move. Porterville is home; where she wants to stay.  Rebecca and Rhonda, two sisters, had no choice.  The well at the house they were renting ran dry. They moved nearby into a trailer park hoping things would get better. Yolanda Garcia, who now has a county water tank but whose son has cystic fibrosis, still worries about getting drinking water to keep her son’s breathing equipment clean.  The drought has exacerbated his condition because of the increased dust and air pollution.  Yolanda grew up in Porterville and wants to stay but with limited access to running water, staying is difficult, leaving is harder.  Who wants to buy a home with a dry well?
 

In the interim, Donna Johnson, the “Water Angel,” keeps delivering drinking water while continuing to be a voice for a community that might otherwise not be heard.  “I just hope that if and when the rain comes, that people will not forget East Porterville and the water issues of the state. Water is a limited resource and we (farmers, residents and environmentalists) are going to have to share and work together.  If we can unite, we will all be in a better position to effect change.”  Water is not the only casualty of the drought.  With an unemployment rate of 12.30%, Dr. Rice, 77 years old, “keeps hustling” to help serve the many who are working fewer hours, spending more as famers plant less or who are turning to drugs for income or escape. She has been running the El Granito Food Bank and Recovery Center for over 40 years.  These are some of the toughest times she has seen.

For now, residents of East Porterville continue to hope and pray for more rain, but not too much at once.




 

 

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