By Joanna Lin and Emmanuel Martinez.
For decades, Racie Jeffers grew or raised nearly everything she ate: nectarines, grapes, cattle and pigs. Then the drought hit. The roots of her trees shriveled, her pasture turned brittle. She chopped her orchard to stumps and gave away her animals.
The well that brought water to Jeffers’ home for 36 years coughed out its final drops last January. For eight months, she got by on barrels of water pulled from a friend’s well, ladled by buckets into her home. Then, in September, a 3,000-gallon tank parked in front of her house began pumping water to her faucets.
Water delivery trucks fill the dark green, cylindrical tank for free every week under a state and county program. The tank is meant to be a stopgap, but Jeffers may rely on it for the foreseeable future.
What began as an emergency response to the drought has dragged on and on. A year after the first tank was installed, tanks are now the primary source of water for more than 540 households in Tulare County, the epicenter of California’s four-year drought. In East Porterville, a poor, unincorporated community near the Sierra Nevada foothills, the outlook is particularly bleak.
Jeffers, a retired cook who lives on Social Security benefits, can’t afford the $20,000 for a well driller to chase the sinking water table below her land. Because she lives outside city borders, her home is beyond the reach of their water pipes. The tank is the only way she can bathe, do her dishes and wash her laundry unless water returns to her well.