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Posted on: March 22, 2019

Op/Ed by Curt Aikens: Water in Yuba County - leaving no one behind

Faucet with water coming out

Most of us take it for granted when we turn on the tap, that our water will reliably be there, and that it will be safe to drink. Scattered throughout California, however, are small communities who can’t rely on their water systems for safe drinking water. Compounding the problem, these are often disadvantaged, low-income communities without the resources to repair or improve their systems to provide safe water supplies. 

March 22 is World Water Day, and this year’s theme is “Leaving no one behind.” 

Between 2008 and 2014, Yuba County residents living in one such disadvantaged community of 84 homes east of Marysville faced this problem head-on. The water in their only storage tank ran dangerously low.  In 2014, after years of worry and searching for solutions, this community’s groundwater levels dropped roughly 182 feet in just 3 months, substantially reducing their water supply. This prompted Yuba County to declare an emergency.

At the time, there was no system redundancy - no backup wells to meet demand and no redundant water storage capacity to mitigate an emergency, such as extremely hot weather, a pump malfunction, damage to a hydrant, or a fire.

And even worse, the local community services district was dissolved due to insolvency, which left Yuba County with the problem. So, the local community turned to their neighbors for help. Yuba County, with support from Yuba Water Agency, stepped in to help improve residential drinking water supplies and a failing wastewater system. Using a combination of local, state and federal funds, the agencies secured more than $4 million for a series of engineering studies and projects to provide the residents of this community with a safe and reliable drinking water supply and wastewater management. 

Significant accomplishments of this locally led partnership solution include: 

• Constructing a new 250,000-gallon potable water storage tank 

• Implementing a rebate program to replace turf lawns with xeriscape and low-efficiency fixtures and appliances with high efficiency ones to reduce demand and lower costs

• Constructing well improvements to provide a reliable water supply

• Improving operation and maintenance of the water distribution system 

• Constructing a new wastewater treatment plant

The people affected by this were our coworkers, our neighbors, our friends and our family. This is a good example of people working together at the local level to provide a safe drinking water supply for the community.

Knowing that this problem is continuing in disadvantaged communities throughout the state, I am honored that the water agency was able to help in Yuba County, and I believe other agencies can and do step up when their own communities are in need. 

Today, the aquifer serving the people of Gold Village appears stabilized, and although they are still painstakingly conserving water, the residents are slowly being allowed to return to some of the pleasures of life, like having a drip irrigation system to water plants and trees. Compared to the dry alternative faced by so many other California communities today, the people of Gold Village are well on the road to recovery, thanks to a community rising up to support their neighbors.

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