KETTLEMAN CITY – As residents of this hardscrabble Kings County town just off Interstate 5 continue their long wait for clean tap water, they hope to keep benefiting from a state program providing bottled water in the interim.
Since 2013, residents have been receiving 30 gallons per month per household.
It's been free of charge, thanks to a $10,000-a-month grant from the State Water Resources Control Board.
Residents use it for drinking and cooking, which saves them having to gulp down the arsenic-contaminated tap water coming from tainted wells.
The well water has other contaminants in it too, such as benzene, and it sometimes comes out of the spigot with a filthy-looking brown color.
The new treatment plant will take water out of the California Aqueduct, make sure it's free of contaminants and pipe it into homes for drinking.
The new water supply is expected to be a huge improvement over the stuff coming out of the tap now.
The plant is expected to come on-line in late 2018 or early 2019, according to Joe McGahan, an engineer working on the project.
Residents reached by phone for comment Monday described the bottled water project as a life-saver.
Resident Maricela Mares-Alatorre, who has a family of five, said just about everybody in town is using the bottled water.
She said without the state help, people who couldn't afford the bottled water on their own "would be forced to drink water from the sink."
"We all know that isn't the best option," she said.
Funding for the bottled water program expires in March 2018, according to George Kostyrko, a spokesman for the State Water Resources Control Board.
Kostyrko said the program will continue to receive funding up until the point when the new plant becomes operational.
The town, which doesn't have enough income to pay for the $11 million facility, is relying on state and federal grants to get the work done.
Construction is expected to start next month.
McGahan said all the money needed to build the plant, including $1 million to cover unanticipated cost over-runs, is finally in-hand, a fact he described as a major milestone in the project's long, convoluted history.
Residents here have been waiting since at least 2009 for the clean water plan to come to fruition.
The seemingly endless delays have generated a lot of frustration and made Mares-Alatorre and others wonder why it didn't get done sooner.
Many feel that Kings County government and the state government haven't made Kettleman City and its mostly lower-income Hispanic residents a priority.
"I think its the same ole 'We're low on the totem pole,'" Mares-Alatorre said.
"For it to take almost a decade, it's a little frustrating," she said. "I think they could have stepped up their effort."
Kettleman City resident Alicia Jacobo said it's been a "long, hard-fought battle" to get to this point.
Jacobo said she'll be "absolutely excited" to finally see clean, clear water coming out of the tap.
"It's been really frustrating," said McGahan, who's been working on the project since the mid-2000s. "It's really good that it's moving now."