East Orosi is an unincorporated community in Tulare County of approximately 700 people, nearly all of whom are low-income Latino farmworker families.
East Orosi is served by the East Orosi Community Service District (EOCSD), which has been in repeated violation of drinking water standards for nitrate and bacteria for more than 10 years.
The groundwater in the immediate vicinity of East Orosi has nitrate levels that regularly exceed the federal health standard.
For that reason EOCSD identified a well site on Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District (COJUSD) property, several miles from the community. By far, the most feasible and cost-effective way to move water to East Orosi is by connecting them to infrastructure owned by neighboring Orosi Public Utilities District (OPUD).
EOCSD has extremely limited administrative capacity, and has been unable for many years to make significant progress on a project to provide a new source of safe drinking water.
Throughout most of 2018, EOCSD did not have a quorum of actively serving directors and was unable to hold board meetings.
OPUD has for years been largely uncooperative with efforts to address the drinking water crisis in East Orosi.
On July 13, 2018, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWB) chose to exercise their authority under SB88 to mandate a consolidation with OPUD to supply drinking water to East Orosi.
The SWB notified both water districts, and gave them 6 months (until January 13, 2019) to negotiate a voluntary consolidation agreement.
After appointing a third director to the board of EOCSD in December, EOCSD and OPUD held their one and only joint meeting to date on January 7, 2019.
At this meeting, they decided to request a 6-month extension on the voluntary consolidation period, which was denied by the SWB.
Regardless of what form a consolidation agreement takes, it will require miles of pipeline and related infrastructure to develop and move water to East Orosi.
By law, current OPUD customers are prevented from being financially impacted by the consolidation, and EOCSD lacks the financial resources to complete this huge project.
What this means is that significant funding from the SWB will be required to cover the cost of the consolidation project.
The drinking water crisis was significantly complicated by a wastewater emergency when the infrastructure which transports wastewater to Orosi for treatment failed in early 2019.
This has resulted in wastewater backing up into people’s homes and yards, causing unsanitary living conditions and property damage. The EOCSD board has had multiple emergency meetings to address the wastewater crisis.
April 10th Public Hearing on Consolidation
Since January 7, efforts to continue negotiation of a voluntary consolidation agreement have been unproductive.
On April 10, 2019, the SWB held a public hearing at Orosi High School for residents of both communities. This hearing was the second of two public meetings required by Senate Bill 88 for the SWB to move forward with a Consolidation order.
The meeting was well-attended, with about 60 individuals, with comments made verbally, or in written form which were read aloud.
Comments centered on frustrations about the delay in addressing the community’s water crisis, the estimated length of time to implement the consolidation project, health impacts in the community, the lack of productive dialogue between OPUD and EOCSD, and deep frustration about the fact that drinking water and wastewater consolidations can’t or won’t be addressed holistically and comprehensively.
Residents made it very clear that they want to have both drinking water and wastewater services taken over directly by OPUD as expeditiously as possible, and that full consolidation and annexation by OPUD should be considered as an option in negotiations.
County Supervisor Eddie Valero, Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District Superintendent Yolanda Valdez, two Board members from EOCSD, and Moses Diaz, attorney for OPUD were in attendance, as well as representatives from a number of organizations including Self-Help Enterprises, Community Water Center, ACT for Women and Girls, US Water Alliance, and Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability.
The SWB will continue accepting public comment until April 30, 2019. Members of the public are encouraged to submit their opinions in writing to:
Caitlin Juarez, Consolidation & Water Partnership Coordinator
State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Drinking Water
265 W. Bullard Avenue, Suite 101
Fresno, CA 93704
Email: [email protected] or Fax: (559) 447-3300
What’s Next for East Orosi?
The SWB is required to present the finding that all voluntary consolidation efforts have been exhausted before moving forward with the order for mandatory consolidation.
A clear answer has not been given by the SWB to frustrated residents on how long they will allow this process to continue before issuing the mandatory order.
The expressed desire of East Orosi residents for OPUD to take over both drinking water and wastewater service for their community is still a possible outcome, but only if it is agreed to voluntarily by both districts.
OPUD and EOCSD are planning to hold another joint meeting to discuss the consolidation later in April, though an exact date has not been confirmed.
Members of the public are highly encouraged to express their opinions about this consolidation by attending and making public comments at meetings of both OPUD and EOCSD.
Public pressure to move forward quickly with a comprehensive and fair consolidation agreement is the surest way to bring relief to the community of East Orosi as quickly as possible!