KETTLEMAN CITY – Kettleman City's long-delayed clean water plant appears to have cleared all obstacles that have been standing in the way of construction starting.
The latest holdup was a search for endangered species at the future plant's site next to the California Aqueduct. Water from the aqueduct will be purified and then delivered to Kettleman City homes and businesses.
The tap water in Kettleman, which comes from local wells, is contaminated with arsenic.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials spent a good chunk of this past summer looking for evidence of blunt-nosed leopard lizards and kit foxes at the location. They were also searching for endangered plants.
"The biggest delay this year was environmental," said Joe McGahan, an engineer working on the water plant project.
McGahan said people were going out to the location at night "to see if any of those critters are present."
"That's what we were doing all summer," he said. "We didn't find any critters. Fish and Wildlife Service officials will sign off shortly."
McGahan said construction of the treatment plant is likely to start by April 2017, with an 18-month estimated construction period. That would mean the plant could open in late 2018/early 2019.
But for people who call Kettleman City home, the prevailing attitude seems to be — "I'll believe it when I see it."
Construction was originally supposed to start earlier this year.
"I don't know what's been causing the delays or what the current status is," said Kettleman City resident Alicia Jacobo. "Everyone is frustrated. They'd like to see some dirt turned over, right? It's been a good five years at least. It's been quite a long time."
Jacobo said she doesn't drink the water out of the tap.
She, like many in this small town near the Interstate 5/Highway 41 intersection, is taking advantage of a state program that provides bottled water to residents for cooking and drinking.
Jacobo thinks there might have been a "lack of communication" from the district about what's going on.
"I think people are just really questioning why it's taking so long," she said. "They're hopeful, but they'll believe it when they see it."
Longtime resident and environmental activist Maricela Mares-Alatorre used the word "frustrating" to describe the long wait.
"Here we are, almost seven years later, and we're still in the same water situation," she said. "The last [holdup] was the special lizard they were looking for."
"There's the whole thing with the endangered species that held it up for so many months," she said. "It's difficult to understand why all this construction is going on in Kettleman City, but the clean water plant got delayed."
"I think the fact that we're not incorporated sometimes makes people forget what's a priority here," she said.
"We need this [water] plant," she said. "We want it. It's definitely on our minds. We need to keep our focus."