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A California Town Has No Reliable Running Water During A Heat Wave

For the last month, Frank Galaviz has wondered when running water will return to his town.

The 77-year-old resident of Teviston — a small rural community in Central California — has been forced to depend on stored and bottled waterafter the pump in the town's only functioning well broke down in early June. Since then, residents have had to travel to neighboring towns to shower or depend on the town's water storage tanks for their daily needs.

Temperatures continue to reach into triple digits as a brutal heat wave sweeps across the West Coast.The ongoing drought only exacerbates the problem, Galaviz says.

"[My wife and I] have lived through many challenges," he says. "We both have survived cancer, but we will not be able to survive without water. This is a problem that is not going away."

Teviston sits between the cities of Fresno and Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley and is home to mostly Latino farmworkers. Normal days in town are usually slow-paced and idyllic, Galaviz says, with many residents commuting to the nearby towns and cities on business. Now, they leave to find more water.

This is not the first time Galaviz or his neighbors have struggled with a broken well. He says two other wells had broken down in previous years and had not been repaired. A new, more modern well is in the works, but Galaviz estimates its completion is still a few years off.

The community continues waiting for repair parts to arrive in hopes it will fix the current well's pump, he added, a process that could take a few weeks.

"It is not normal to not be able to flush toilets," he says. "It's not normal to not be able to take a shower."

Residents have managed to come up with a temporary fix, using their water storage tanks to offer relief.

"We were able to get some of the water pressure back," Galaviz said. "We put a submersible pump into one of our old wells and we're forcing water from the storage tanks through that system. But it's not a permanent fix."

Rural Latino communities in California have been particularly vulnerable to drought conditions, according to a report from the state Legislative Analyst's Office.

"Having no water equals bad health," state Sen. Melissa Hurtado, who serves California's 14th District, tells Weekend Edition. Hurtado says her bill, SB 559, would allot $785 million to fund and repair water supply infrastructure. One of the waterways posed for fixing is the Friant-Kern canal, which supplies Teviston and the towns around it. Over the years, the canal has become subject to subsidence — a condition that has caused some parts of the canal to sink and means it can't deliver as much water.

"SB 559 would help fix the canal so that the basin and the communities that rely on water here would be able to have more access to it," Hurtado says.

Galaviz has spent the last few weeks knocking on doors to check in on neighbors and trying to organize help.

"I have a neighbor whose daughter has medical problems. She needs drinking water, pure water," he says. "It hurts to see people suffering."

Hafsa Fathima and Jan Johnson produced and edited the audio story.

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