Cantua Creek residents face steep rate hike or no water

Residents of the Cantua Creek area voted against paying more than $100 a month for water. Now, their taps may soon run dry.
FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- The water coming out of a fountain at Cantua Creek School is supposedly drinkable, but it comes with a warning from the health department that says it contains levels of disinfection byproducts above drinking water standards.

But Gloria Padilla and most other folks say it's not drinkable. She said, "We have water, not drinkable, for the last couple of years, we buy our own water bottles. It's not even good to take a bath, but oh, well."

This water is costing the 73 homes in the Cantua Creek service area $72 a month. Fresno County needs to raise the rate another $30 to $102 a month because the service area is $70,000 in debt -- mainly because its supplier, the Westlands Water District, is paying more than three times more for its government water supplies than usual.

Westlands has growers now pay more than $1,100 an acre foot for water that used to cost around $300. They sell their water to Fresno County, which distributes it to Cantua Creek and other small communities.

And Westlands spokesperson Gayle Holman notes Westlands can't give those water users a break. She said, "We are a public water agency within the state of California, and we are not able to subsidize any cost increases, it's against the law. But yet our heart is breaking because we understand that these are the people that we depend on for the livelihood of our Ag industry."

Fresno County is also prevented from subsidizing those costs. But Cantua Creek resident Antonio Mendoza says they just can't pay more. "It is a high cost for us. A lot of people work in the fields and get just minimum wage; this is a big problem for us."

That means the water, however marginal it is, could be shut off by May. Fresno County, Westlands and legal aid attorneys are working to find a way to keep the water flowing at a price the residents there can afford. Cantua Creek's problem will be discussed by the Fresno County Supervisors at Tuesday's meeting. County officials plan to meet with residents in Cantua Creek on Thursday night.

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