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Tulare County Drought Situation Dire As Neighbors Steal Water From Neighbors

TULARE COUNTY (CBS13) — The drought devastation has gotten worse in Tulare County in the weeks since we examined the lack of water as part of our five-part drought series.

Conditions are desperate enough that neighbors are stealing water from each other.

A company CBS13 profiled from the Bay Area that makes devices that pull water from thin air decided to help.

With so many people desperately in need, so many hundreds without water, Pastor Ramon Hernandez's donated drinking water is almost always in short supply.

"It's all over the county, all over the valley, but this is the worst of the worst, the east side of Porterville," he said.

The Tule River once supplied the wells that have long since run dry. Now, the riverbed has turned into a dumping ground with not a drop of water to be found.

On Tuesday, working next to community showers in the Iglesia Emmanuel Church parking lot in the drought's hardest-hit area in the state, Hernandez anxiously awaited a delivery he believes will make a big difference.

RELATED: Drought Will Leave Sour Taste To Some Drinking Water

"Today is a good day," he said. "We don't get too many days around here lately."

Bay Area company Ecoloblue is in Tulare County, donating an atmospheric water generator that makes purified drinking water from the humidity in the air.

The unit makes up to eight gallons a day, a mere drop in the bucket. But in a community with more than 1,000 people without water, Hernandez says it's at least something.

"I was thinking people from the community can bring their own jugs, and just fill them with water you know?" he said.

"I'm not gonna tell you we're gonna be the end-all be-all, but we can definitely help," said Dexter Fernandez with Ecoloblue.

It's even more dire in unincorporated East Porterville than the last time CBS13 was there. Tulare County buys and trucks in water to refill tanks in people's front yards.

In a sign of increasing desperation, some have resorted to stealing bottled water from their neighbors. A woman CBS13 spoke to says thieves ripped off the water pump she uses to wash her clothes and take showers that was hooked up to her tank.

Thankfully the county replaced it.

Andrew Lockman with Tulare County Office of Emergency Services says some go to nearby communities that have water and just help themselves.

"What we're seeing here is we're seeing people in really desperate situations," he said. "Somehow this community of 15,000 people went through three times as much water without growing at all."

With water so scarce, Lockman says Tulare County is taking a look at atmospheric water generators—an expensive, but emerging drought-beating technology.

RELATED: Inmate Firefighters Train For Busy California Fire Season During Drought

Ecoloblue's much larger industrial units can produce up to 2,500 gallons a day, but the trouble is the energy required to run them. Lockman says it's cheaper to truck water in than it is to operate atmospheric water generators on a larger scale. Still, he says, the county is keeping its options open.

"It's an expensive option. Certainly where you have no other options available, cost becomes less and less of a factor," he said.

The eventual goal is a centralized water system to serve 1,700 properties in the county, but that is five to 10 years and $60 million away—money they don't know where they will find.

For now, the county will keep buying water. The city of Porterville with its relatively stable supply first turned the county down. Now, the city has agreed to sell enough water to fill the county's tanks for a month.

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