Rural California Town on the Verge of Running Out of Water

by Craig Garrett
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

On December 1st, the small rural California town of Coalinga is estimated to run out of water, officials say. According to Pro-Tem Mayor Ray Singleton, the city has only been allocated 2,000 acre-feet of water this year instead of the usual 10,000. The available supply is running out quickly, CNBC reports.

“It was beautifully green just eight years ago. If you look at Google Maps, my yard was green, but like maybe five or six years ago now you look at it now, it’s like the Sahara Desert,” explained Singleton. He moved there in 2000 and has been raising his family there since.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coalinga is located in Fresno County, which is currently experiencing a drought–the second driest year on record over the past 128 years. With an estimated 17,465 people living there, everyone in the California valley city inland between Los Angeles and San Francisco is affected.

If residents of Coalinga hope to keep their pools, they must sign a contract with the municipality. This contract promises that they will provide an extra 30,000 gallons of water themselves. Water restrictions are currently in place in Coalinga. These include no watering front lawns and washing cars. There is also a moratorium on pools.

Flushing the hydrants is one of Singleton’s primary concerns at the moment since it uses up a lot of water. Moreover, he approximately sees 25% to 30% of the city’s water being wasted by state institutions such as prisons and mental health hospitals. This is something that frustrates him because there is nothing he can do about it.

A state prison in the California town has been successful in reducing water usage

The Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga has taken several steps to reduce water usage. They are using pressurized water for cleaning, reducing urinal diaphragm capacity, and lessening the irrigation of landscaping. These efforts have paid off– since 2020, they’ve managed to reduce usage by more than 21%.

Singleton has tried to buy water for Coalinga from other sources, but the price is always too high. He said the town might have to raise taxes. However, he’s looking for a grant or some other form of financial assistance. He wants to ensure that every resident in Coalinga will have the 55 gallons of water per day that they need. Singleton is also appealing to state offcials. “Sacramento, it’s beautiful up there. I mean, it’s like, wow, we would love to have some of the water that you have. It’s crazy that we don’t,” Singleton said.

The Bureau of Reclamation stated that the long-standing drought is having an effect on many towns it looks after. It’s been actively working with the City of Coalinga to discover solutions. One such solution being locating water that could be transferred to the city. The Bureau went on to say that it has funds accessible through the Urban Community Drought Relief grant program. It would readily help Coalinga with next steps should they choose to pursue this option.

As the farmland around him has transformed from trees to solar panels, Singleton also suggested that the allocation of water could be related to the changing local economy. “Are we in a drought or are WE in a drought?” Singleton was skeptical, indicating that the possible negative outcomes in Coalinga could be more severe than in other places. “Because the state seems to be looking great around us and we’re looking brown on the inside.”