Crippled water supply issues persist weeks later for Lake Havasu residents – San Bernardino Sun
Paul Rivera and his wife, Melissa, bought a double-wide in Havasu Lake in 2004, planning to eventually retire to the community in eastern California.
The couple often traveled from their home in Yorba Linda to their Colorado River playground for weekend getaways. Paul Rivera built on the property, adding a garage, awning, concrete walkways and patio.
When the Kimberly-Clark manufacturing plant in Fullerton — where Paul had worked for 42 years and Melissa for 38 — closed permanently in 2019, the Riveras found themselves taking early retirement.
In October 2021, the couple sold their Orange County home and moved permanently to Lake Havasu to enjoy a relaxing life along the Colorado River. But just six months later they found their idyllic retirement life disrupted by a crisis that left them and 300 other residents without water.
On March 21, the water supply was cut off when a pump failed after a power outage in Southern California Edison. The Havasu Water Co., the supplier in the area, did not have working backup generators to run its dilapidated pump.
It has been a particular ordeal for Rivera and his wife, who are caring for her mother, who is 82, and her stepfather, who is 96. Both suffer from dementia and need continuous monitoring. Without a water supply, they gave her in-laws sponge baths.
” It is very frustrating. I try to be nice to it,” said Paul Rivera, 62.
It took nine days before the water supply was restored, but only for showers and flushing. As of Friday, April 8, residents were still without drinking water.
Rivera was indifferent when asked if he was concerned about showering with unfiltered water.
“As long as there’s soap and water, I think it’s fine, but I’m not really sure,” he said. “I never tested the water to see if there was anything organic in it.”
Some residents are reluctant to shower, even though they can now do so.
“I’m just very wary about taking a shower. It’s mean,” said resident Karen Chamberlain. “Might as well jump in the lake!”
On March 29, the State Water Resources Control Board slapped the water company with a compliance order, citing a dozen violations of state codes and issuing 15 directives with specific deadlines for the company complies, or face fines of up to $1,000 per day. .
Patrick Webb, the attorney representing Havasu Water Co., blamed the problem on the power outage, caused by a broken utility pole, and one of the company’s former operators recently walked off the job, preventing the reservoir from d company’s 100,000 gallon supply to be filled.
“The reservoir has been filled and (Havasu Water) is awaiting clearance from the water boards, which is expected shortly,” Webb said in an April 4 email.
During a March 22 sanitation inspection at the water company’s site, state water department engineers found the plant to be “in a state of extreme disrepair,” according to the compliance order. .
Residents say that despite the water outage, they still received their monthly water bill of over $80.
Webb, who would not explain why the water company’s equipment was allowed to deteriorate, said the company was investigating whether there was a link between the water outage and the “sudden departure ” of the former employee and that the company had contacted the Chemehuevi. Indian tribe for help.
Residents said the neighboring Chemehuevi tribe, which has its own water system, has been very accommodating in allowing residents to use the showers at its Havasu Landing campground.
The Water Board concluded that Havasu Water Co. has been unable to provide “pure, safe, safe and potable water” to its customers and does not have certified treatment operators to do so. operate its plant in accordance with the compliance order.
“It Can’t Last Longer”
One of the former water company operators, Theodora “Teddye” Goodgame, explained in a March 4 email to State Water Board engineer Hector Cazares that she quit her job because her salary had been reduced to $800 per month. She said the other operator she worked with was paid $50 a day to run the plant.
Goodgame said the water plant had fallen into such disrepair and was so financially strapped that it had no choice but to leave.
“The condition of the factory is only getting worse. It can’t go on any longer,” Goodgame said in his email, which was included in the compliance order. “I close my eyes and pray every time I draw water from this old pressure tank. … Despite the increase in rates, there hasn’t been a penny invested in this.
Goodgame said in his email that the water company’s CEO, Jennifer Hodges, told him there was “no money in the bank.”
Legal and financial setbacks
Hodges, who did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails seeking comment, has been mired in Chapters 11 and 7 bankruptcy proceedings since July 2021. She listed assets of $4.2 million in real estate and personal, including a sprawling ranch in San Miguel worth $4 million, a 2017 Range Rover HSE worth $35,000, and a 2014 Mercedes E250 Blu Tec worth $15,000.
She detailed more than $4 million in liabilities, according to the bankruptcy filing.
For more than a decade, the Havasu Water Co. has been embroiled in a protracted legal battle with the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe over a 1,500-foot easement across Chemehuevi lands to which the federal government originally granted the rights to the water company in 1976.
Havasu Water Co. needs the Chemehuevi land to run its pipeline to supply water to its customers, and also has its water pump on the Chemehuevi property.
The tribe argues that the water company’s lease with the federal government expired in 2006 and that it must renegotiate its lease with the tribe before it can use tribal land for the pipeline.
But Havasu Water Co. hasn’t agreed to renew the lease with the tribe and hasn’t paid the tribe a penny for use of its land since 2006, said Lester Marston, the tribe’s lead attorney. on the case.
A mandatory settlement conference is scheduled for April 28 in federal court.
Of the State Water Board’s 15 guidelines, Havasu Water Co. must meet four by Tuesday, April 12:
- Have two certified operators in place at the water plant.
- Meet drinking water standards and surface water treatment requirements.
- Have working backup generators on site.
- Prepare a corrective action plan for water board approval.
In addition, by April 15, the water company must verify that its system has functional equipment such as filters and chlorine analyzers.
Webb did not respond to questions asking whether the company thinks it will be able to meet those guidelines on time.
If Havasu Water Co. fails to comply with state guidelines, the State Water Board may issue further enforcement action with fines, District Engineer Wei Chang said in an email. He said the water board was working with the California Public Utilities Commission, which also regulates the water company and therefore has the power to take enforcement action against the company.
“A last resort would be for the State Water Board to seek a court-appointed receiver to take over the operations of the water company, however, obtaining a receiver can be a slow process,” Chang said in the statement. ‘E-mail.
“Neighbors helping their neighbors”
Following the March 21 power and water outage, the San Bernardino County Office of Emergency Services provided residents with emergency bottled water, the county spokesperson said, David Wort.
Chamberlain’s husband, Gary Chamberlain, 73, helped local residents in need and volunteered at the local fire station and community hall, where the county delivered pallets of bottled water.
On Friday, Chamberlain spent most of the day using a forklift to move pallets from a fire station, where water was delivered, to the nearby community hall.
Before the water was restored for showers and flushes, Chamberlain said he would venture to the lake’s boat launch every morning and draw water with a 3 gallon bucket and then bring it to residents needing water to flush their toilets.
“It’s not just an inconvenience, but it’s stressful,” he said. He said one of his biggest concerns was the hydrants and what would happen if a fire broke out without water for the hydrants.
Fortunately, the hydrants were replenished on March 30 when water was restored for showers and toilets.
The benefit of the crisis is that it has brought out the best in the community. The inhabitants are mobilizing to help each other.
“It’s really neighbors helping neighbors,” Chamberlain said.