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Santa Cruz Mountain Community Struggles With Unreliable, Unsafe Water Service

BOULDER CREEK (KPIX) -- In Boulder Creek, a small community nestled deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains, frustration over an unreliable water supply is growing.

"This is the 21st century, we live in the heart of Silicon Valley, can you even imagine turning the tap on and not having safe water to drink, bathe?" Daniela Apostol asked.

Apostol and neighbors Michael and Jennifer Parks have installed an expensive water-filtration system because they don't trust the water that comes out of their taps.

They've said that water is more than just a commodity in their community -- it has become a luxury.

For the past year, nearly 500 residents in Boulder Creek under the privately-owned Big Basin Water Company have dealt with repeated water outages because of an aging and deteriorating water system.

The residents said they also deal with delays in being notified they must boil their water when service resumes, according to the Parks and Apostol. Sometimes, they say, they don't get a "no boil advisory" notification for more than 24 hours.

That may be too late for some who can't afford a filtration system.

"We've actually just had so many outages that we know the drill and that sort of is the sad statement right there," Jennifer Parks said.

Parks and her husband have resorted to filling up their bathtub to be able to flush their toilet during outages. They've also bought a water cooler so they have safe drinking water for them and their German Shepherd dog Cora.

During water outages, outside contaminants can get into the water system when it depressurizes, which is why a boil advisory is typically issued.

The Parks said there have been so many outages in the last year they've lost count.

"It does make you sort of feel like you're not in the United States when you have to fill your bathtub with water," Parks said. "It's very frustrating and concerning. We actually, at one point, I've had blue tape on the faucet to remind me not to turn it on."

"A lot of the neighbors don't even realize that they're supposed to boil it and there's very poor communication when the boil water notice is lifted," said Michael.

Big Basin Water Company is owned by Jim Moore, who lives just a couple miles away from Apostol and the Parks. They say they have never been able to get any answers from Moore or his company employees about the issues that have plagued the system for years.

Apostol said she's tried to call and e-mail the company several times. Residents, she said, have resorted to communicating with each other during outages on NextDoor.

Not even the drinking-water division of the California State Water Resources Board has been able to communicate with Moore at times, including during and after a water outage when customers are required to be notified within 24 hours that their water isn't safe to drink, said Stefan Cajina.

"It's deeply concerning when we cannot reach a water system in the midst of a crisis," said Cajina, who is the North Coastal Section chief. "We require all water systems to have an emergency notification on file with us, which not only gives us information on how to contact them at all hours but also gives them information on how to contact multiple of our staff at any hour of the day. So there should be no reason why we and the water system cannot get ahold of each other quickly."

Cajina said they only recently became aware of the enormity of Big Basin Water Company's issues after customers had enough of the outages rose in frequency after last year's CZU Complex Fire.

That wildfire burned a portion of Big Basin Water Company's infrastructure. Many residents believe the massive repairs from the damage have only piled on more problems for Moore and he can't keep up with the system's regular maintenance. They think that's why there are so many outages.

"In fairness, I think that the family that is trying to run this water system is in over its head," Cajina said.

Big Basin Water Company's customers are exhausted -- never knowing when they'll wake up to running water or, more importantly, safe drinking water.

"We knew when we moved in many, many years ago that it was a small family-owned water system that doesn't really have the resources, and so, after the fire when we heard that they had lost all of their above-ground equipment, we knew it would be a long time before they recovered from that," Michael Parks said.

KPIX attempted to reach Moore through his company phone number and by e-mail but he has yet to respond.

"I think all of us would be much more sympathetic if they would just chat with us and explain and we could know where's the money that we've been paying you gone all these years," Parks said.

"It breaks my heart to think that someone would have a baby to raise around here with this water," said Apostol.

This is the first segment in a two-part series. Read Part Two

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