Plastic bottles clutter Vargas’ kitchen, and buckets line the front porch. The 70-year-old widow, who is stiff with arthritis, lost her well in June and carried her water from a water tank in her yard until volunteers arrived to hook up temporary plumbing.
“The buckets are heavy, but I have to do it” if her son isn’t there to help, she said through a translator as the volunteers worked outside. “I have to get it outside, then bring it inside, to bathe, to use the toilet.”
Serrato also carries her domestic water to her house. Her farmworker husband leaves for the fields at 5 a.m., so she wakes with him and gets a bucket for washing and the toilet. More buckets are needed as other family members leave for work and school, then return.
“Six to seven hours a day — moving water. It’s exhausting, a full-time job,” said Cheryl Perine, at the 10-acre plot on the Tule River she shares with two 8-year-olds and her husband, Ron, a disabled, retired Vietnam War veteran.
Cheryl remembers catching tadpoles and wading in the Tule River. You could see your reflection only 10 feet down in the family well, she said.
Now the river is dry, diverted upstream and split into many channels, disappearing into the irrigation and drainage canals that support the region’s vast agricultural economy.
In these small towns in rural California, well users are often poor, disabled or elderly — and the daily hunt for water stresses their already tough lives.