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Latest News in Cantua Creek, CA

Water bill debt has hit Valley families hard. Help could be coming for some – but not all

More than 140 water districts in the central San Joaquin Valley have yet to apply for state water debt relief, leaving thousands of customers susceptible to water shutoffs after the state’s moratorium expires on Dec. 31. The deadline to apply is Monday at 5 p.m.California residents who fell behind on paying their water bills during the pandemic are protected from having their water shut off through the end of the year.While most water districts rejecting state funds to cover household water debt are very small, there are ...

More than 140 water districts in the central San Joaquin Valley have yet to apply for state water debt relief, leaving thousands of customers susceptible to water shutoffs after the state’s moratorium expires on Dec. 31. The deadline to apply is Monday at 5 p.m.

California residents who fell behind on paying their water bills during the pandemic are protected from having their water shut off through the end of the year.

While most water districts rejecting state funds to cover household water debt are very small, there are some larger districts in the region rejecting state assistance, according to a state survey, including Pinedale County Water District in Fresno, serving nearly 17,000 residents, and the city of Exeter in Tulare County, which serves about 10,000.

Gov. Gavin Newsom included $1 billion in the state budget this past June for the California Water and Wastewater Arrearages Program, which would forgive water debt. The fund was officially set up in September.

If water districts apply for and receive funds from the state, they can use the dollars to forgive past-due balances incurred by both residential and commercial customers from March 2020 to mid-June of 2021. Debt accrued prior to March of 2020 is not eligible for forgiveness.

Water districts that receive state funding from the program cannot charge late fees on customers for debt incurred during the covered period. They’re also required to tell customers within 60 days of receiving state assistance that their debt is either forgiven or reduced.

The Fresno City Council authorized the city’s application for $4.1 million in funding from the state to forgive water debt for more than 12,800 customers on Thursday. The city has incurred over $10 million in water debt since the pandemic began, said Fresno public utilities director Michael Carbajal.

More than 76,000 customers in the central San Joaquin Valley accumulated over $15 million in water debt in the first six months of the pandemic, according to a survey of water districts by the State Water Resources Control Board. The number is likely higher, as some water districts did not respond to the survey.

The survey also found that residents across California fell behind on their water bills by about $1 billion.

Water districts with many lower incomes and larger communities of color households are more likely to have significant water debt, according to the state’s survey. Statewide, about one in eight households accumulated some water debt during the pandemic.

Of the 140 districts in the central San Joaquin Valley who are yet to apply for state funds to forgive water and wastewater debt, over 50 have told the state in a survey they don’t plan on applying.

Most are small water districts with fewer than 1,000 customers — where they may not have the administrative capacity to apply for grants, said Uriel Saldivar, a policy advocate with Community Water Center, an advocacy organization based in Visalia. Saldivar also said that the state’s insistence that water districts stop charging late fees for debt incurred during the pandemic may also be discouraging some agencies from applying.

Orosi Public Utilities District, serving nearly 9,000 people in northern Tulare County, is among those that have decided not to apply for state funds. The district was extremely impacted by people not paying their water bills during the pandemic, said Elena Vidana, office manager for the district. But the program initially covered just water debt — and they provide water, wastewater, and street lighting services, she said.

The Orosi Public Utilities District also started doing intense outreach earlier this year to connect customers with Self-Help Enterprises, a local nonprofit that administers rent and utility relief, which helped cover some of the debt. Many pandemic rental assistance programs throughout California allow customers to apply for utility relief as well.

Terra Bella Irrigation District in southern Tulare County, which serves nearly 5,000 people, didn’t see the need, according to Sean Geivet, general manager.

“We’ve been operating normally through the pandemic,” Geivet said. “We never stopped threatening to shut people off. Everyone’s been paying normally. We have maybe less than 10 accounts that are past due.”

Even before the pandemic, the price of drinking water was a concern for residents and valley water districts. “At any given time, there’s always a portion of our customer base who struggles to pay their bill. That’s inherent, given the demographics of our city,” said Carbajal of Fresno City’s public utilities.

Saldivar says this concern highlights the need for more permanent rate assistance programs for customers with lower incomes. Senate Bill 222, introduced by California Sen. Bill Dodd, would set up such a program.

SB 222 is supported by several organizations that work with people living in poverty but is opposed by ACWA, the largest organization representing water districts in California, because the bill doesn’t specify where funding to support the rate assistance would come from, they say. The bill is currently inactive at the moment.

“A lot of families have been struggling and falling behind because water bills typically outpace the cost of inflation,” Saldivar said.

With the water shut-off moratorium coming to an end for many California residents at the end of the year, people could start to see their taps halted — even if temporarily — in early January.

“Before COVID, shutting off water was the norm,” said Elena Vidana, office manager with the Orosi Public Utilities District. “But we always work with people before we get to that point. And usually, as soon as the water shuts off, people show up right away, and we work with them to restore service.”

This story was originally published December 6, 2021 10:07 AM.

Putting her children before the fields

Carolina NavarroAge: 34City: Rural Fresno CountyRace/Ethnicity: LatinaOccupation: Farmworker caring for son and daughterCarolina lost work due to COVID-19 and has fallen behind on rent for a trailer she shares with her son and daughter. The single mother remains on a waiting list for undocumented immigrants in need of assistance.Carolina Navarro is out of work, hasn’t paid rent in three months, and has been watching her utility bills slow...

Carolina NavarroAge: 34City: Rural Fresno CountyRace/Ethnicity: LatinaOccupation: Farmworker caring for son and daughter

Carolina lost work due to COVID-19 and has fallen behind on rent for a trailer she shares with her son and daughter. The single mother remains on a waiting list for undocumented immigrants in need of assistance.

Carolina Navarro is out of work, hasn’t paid rent in three months, and has been watching her utility bills slowly pile up.

But, on a recent Thursday afternoon, the 34-year-old single mother was mostly worried about the chewed-up pencils on her kitchen table.

“More than work or money, it’s the emotional health of my children that brings me sorrow,” Navarro said in Spanish during an interview at her home in rural Fresno County.

“My 6-year-old son loves school. He loves reading,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “But he’s biting his pencils until he breaks them.”

Navarro asked to be identified by her mother’s maiden name because she feared possible repercussions for her family.

Navarro believes her son, Cesar, is suffering anxiety brought on by a year in isolation. Their financial distress, immigration status, and her son’s other health issues are only making it worse.

Navarro’s situation isn’t unique — on average, one in eight Californians have been late on rent during the pandemic, and the majority of them are single mothers. But as an undocumented immigrant, she has been ineligible for most government relief efforts, and as a farmworker, she has been disproportionately devastated by a lack of worker protections and availability of work.

A recent study on the toll of COVID-19 on farmworkers found seven of every 10 farmworkers struggle to pay for food, while 63% reported difficulty paying rent during the pandemic.

In late November, Navarro lost all sources of income.

Her son came down with COVID-19 after staying with his uncle while his mother worked the fields at a nearby ranch. His illness worried Navarro because he also has a chronic heart condition. He had open-heart surgery when he was born and several surgeries after that. The valve that pumps blood into his body is now closing up, and he needs surgery.

His cough, fevers, and headaches lasted about a month. Carolina and her daughter caught the virus from him, too.

Sick and quarantined, Navarro stopped showing up for work, which, on a good week, would bring in a couple hundred dollars. She soon fell behind on rent, gas, and electricity and could barely afford food.

Navarro also failed to drop off her paperwork for limited government assistance available to undocumented immigrants through CalWORKS. In March, after visiting the county office in person, she recovered that assistance.

The slow winter season has dried up the work she could have returned to in January. Her labor contractor, who typically hires about 20 workers each week, only needs about five people these days, she said. She hopes to go back in April when the harvest season picks back up.

“That’s one more month of not paying my rent, one more month I owe the landlady, one more month of light and gas and water,” she said.

The owners of the old trailer Navarro and her kids call home are farmworkers themselves and have known her for over a decade. That’s why they haven’t given her an eviction notice for failing to pay $575 in monthly rent since December, she said. The owners declined to be interviewed for this story.

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Navarro applied for COVID-19 relief through Proteus, one of the few nonprofit organizations in the area authorized to distribute CARES Act funding to farmworkers, regardless of immigration status. But she remains on the waiting list, as there isn’t enough to go around.

Candelaria Caro-Hernandez, service center manager at the Proteus Kerman location, said nearly 600 farmworkers had applied for assistance related to COVID-19 losses. To date, her office has received about $335,000 to distribute, and the money has almost dried up. About 400 people had been served so far — but only in part.

“Some of them owe three months in rent,” she said. “Some get the three months, but a lot of them break my heart. They say, ‘I need this, but I only really need food and propane.’”

Armando Valdez, director of Fresno nonprofit Community Center for Arts & Technology, said the vast majority of rural undocumented families he works with have also been unsuccessful in attaining COVID-19 relief through similar community-based organizations.

“Most people have told me the same thing: ‘They take down all our information, and we never hear from them again,’” he said. “They’re discouraged.”

Valdez has been dropping off pantry goods for Navarro’s family. They have also been getting by with free school meals and Pandemic EBT, federal food program.

Caro-Hernandez said many landlords in west Fresno County have been understanding during the pandemic. She has yet to see an eviction notice from one of the farmworker families she assists, which she said might be due to the eviction moratorium over nonpayment of rent.

“I think it’s because no one has control of this, and even the landlords themselves have been affected,” Caro-Hernandez said.

However, given the shortage of available aid, Valdez said he expects to see a wave of evictions for undocumented farmworkers this summer, when eviction protections expire.

“How will they help these people stay off the streets?” he asked.

Sometimes, Navarro said, she wishes she could go back home to her family in Durango, Mexico. But she can’t, she explained, because her son needs the medical specialists and care that can only be afforded here.

“I stay because of my kids,” she said.

This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

In California’s interior, there’s no escape from the desperate heat: ‘Why are we even here?’

Soaring temperatures are a way of life in the Central Valley, but racial disparities mean many have no access to reliefIn Cantua, a small town deep within California’s farming heartland, the heat had always been a part of life. “We can do nothing against it,” said Julia Mendoza, who’s lived in this town for 27 years. But lately, she says, the searing temperatures are almost unlivable.By midday on Thursday, the first day of a protracted, extreme heatwave in California’s Central Valley, the country r...

Soaring temperatures are a way of life in the Central Valley, but racial disparities mean many have no access to relief

In Cantua, a small town deep within California’s farming heartland, the heat had always been a part of life. “We can do nothing against it,” said Julia Mendoza, who’s lived in this town for 27 years. But lately, she says, the searing temperatures are almost unlivable.

By midday on Thursday, the first day of a protracted, extreme heatwave in California’s Central Valley, the country roads were sizzling with heat. A young volunteer with a local environmental justice non-profit who had come to check in on the neighborhood collapsed on the sidewalk, her face bright red and damp. Construction crews working nearby quickly swept her into an air-conditioned car and handed her a cold bottle of water.

¡Mira, el calor!” gasped Mendoza as she rushed over from her front porch. Arcelia Luna, her friend and neighbor shook her head as she poured a bottle of refrigerated water over the head and body of the two-year-old boy she was watching.

Much of California is suffering through record-breaking temperatures, just a week after a deadly heat dome blistered the Pacific north-west. Across the west, 28 million Americans will have endured triple-digit heat this week. While coastal regions, including the Bay Area, will have been spared by cool marine air, California’s Central Valley – the state’s sprawling, agricultural innards – will have broiled.

The National Weather Service issued an “excessive heat warning” for the Central Valley from Thursday through Monday. And by mid-morning on Thursday, asphalt- and concrete-paved Fresno began shimmering with heat. There was no breeze to rustle the rows and rows of almond and pistachio trees that radiated for miles and miles out of the city. The occasional irrigation canal melded into the heat mirage that radiated off the country roads.

Global heating is driving stronger, longer heatwaves in the region, said Jose Pablo Ortiz Partida, a climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit advocacy group.

Researchers have been warning of such extreme heatwaves for decades, he said, but the barrage of heat surges that California and the western US have been alarming, he said. Temperature records are being broken earlier than expected or predicted.

“We are breaking temperature records this summer. And are going to keep breaking temperature records, as long as we keep burning fossil fuels,” said Ortiz, who lives in the valley. “It’s infuriating, it’s tiring and it’s emotionally draining to see.”

The vicious cycle of the climate crisis has merged with a vicious cycle of inequity in the region. Racial disparities in access to shade and air conditioning are increasingly becoming dangerous, even deadly.

Here, changing weather patterns have wrought not only periods of extreme heat, but also an extended drought – two phenomena that feed into each other. The heat has caused water reserves to evaporate too quickly, drying out the reservoirs that feed the region’s $50bn agricultural industry. With scarcely any moisture left in the ground, the desiccated landscape heats up like a hot plate, amplifying the scorching ambient temperatures.

On hot weeks like this one, Mendoza and a group of other women who live in the area gather on her front porch, seated in a circle on folding chairs under a nylon tent. The group has been campaigning to build an air-conditioned community center or a small park with trees where people can go to stay cool during what have become increasingly frequent bouts of extreme heat.

In Cantua Creek, and throughout the valley, the over-pumping of groundwater has led to a concentrating of nitrates from pesticides, fertilizer and dairy waste runoff from farms and naturally occurring arsenic. Mendoza and her neighbors aren’t able to drink the water from their taps, so trucks lug jugs of potable water to them each day. “We don’t want anything big, you know,” Mendoza said. “Just somewhere to stay cool. And clean water.

“On days like this,” she added, “I just want to be able to shower in tranquility.”

Hotter, drier conditions also mean harder, and less work for the region’s hundreds of thousands of farm workers. This week, Jesús Zúñiga has been up at 3am, to get to the fields by 5am. “I pick tomatoes – which is one of the toughest jobs out here,” he said, showing off the thick calluses that have developed on his hands. For hours each day, the harsh valley sun bears down on his back as he hunches over the tomato vines. Once he’s collected 50 pounds of fruit, he sprints down the neat, irrigated rows, to dump buckets full of the fruit on to trucks. His harvest ends up in grocery stores as well as fast food restaurant chains.

On several days this week, temperatures reached dangerous highs by 10am. “So on these hot days we’re only able to work five or six hours, before we’d start to get sick,” he said. “But then, we only get paid for five or six hours.” At $14 an hour that isn’t enough to pay his rent and soaring electricity bills, or to support his family of five.

“By the end of the shift we are wet. Everything is wet with sweat. Sometimes my head starts to hurt, and I get dizzy,” he said. “That is when I start to have doubts, so many doubts: why are we even here?”

Farm workers die of heat at roughly 20 times the national rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But as the climate crisis triggers longer, hotter heatwaves, the risks for agricultural workers will rise, said Michelle Tigchelaar, a researcher at Stanford University. Based on climate models projecting a global temperature increase of 3.6F (2C) by 2050, Tigchelaar discovered that agricultural workers who currently labor through an average of 21 dangerously hot days a year will see that number nearly double over the next few decades.

In some parts of the Central Valley, the heat index through most of the summer will surpass what even healthy, young and well-hydrated workers could safely handle, according to the study, published last year. “These are the hidden costs of keeping our supermarkets and shops well-stocked,” she said.

In Fresno, the wide sidewalks were eerily empty by late afternoon. The 500,000 people who live here had all retreated to air-conditioned homes, malls or public libraries. At the Community Regional medical center in downtown Fresno, Dr René Ramirez said he’d already seen a few patients coping with severe sunburns, heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses in the emergency department that day. Many of his patients don’t have insurance, and many suffer from underlying health issues including heart disease, high blood pressure and, in a region with some of the worst air pollution in the country, asthma. All of those conditions make it harder for people to cope with extreme heat, even those who are acclimatized to high temperatures.

“From my perspective, everybody should be entitled to access cooling, whether that’s at home or at community centers,” said Ramirez, who is also a faculty member at UCSF Fresno. “I think that is something that’s an inherent right.”

Nora Madden, 65, who has been living in her car or staying at motels for the past year, said her usual strategy to survive heatwaves is to buy a bag of ice from the dollar store in the morning, stow it in her icebox and chew the cubes throughout the day.

But on Thursday afternoon it had become too hot to sit in her car, so she headed over to a community cooling center downtown. The city opens these centers when temperatures are forecasted to reach 105F (41C), or higher. “But what about when it’s 103F, or 100F?” Madden said. The stark, unshaded rows of concrete that make up some of Fresno’s poorest neighborhoods are unforgiving heat islands. “Do we have to die at 103?” she said.

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Agriculture interests say canal fixes will help vulnerable communities. Residents disagree.

The Friant-Kern canal passes through Terra Bella, with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. The subsidence causing water flow issues in and around Terra Bella is difficult to perceive visually as it spans a 30-mile stretch of the canal. Photos by Martin do Nascimento. This piece is part of a collaboration that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), California Health Report, Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism, Circle of Blue, Colorado Public Radio, Columbia Insight, The Counter, High Coun...

The Friant-Kern canal passes through Terra Bella, with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. The subsidence causing water flow issues in and around Terra Bella is difficult to perceive visually as it spans a 30-mile stretch of the canal. Photos by Martin do Nascimento.

This piece is part of a collaboration that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), California Health Report, Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism, Circle of Blue, Colorado Public Radio, Columbia Insight, The Counter, High Country News, New Mexico In Depth and SJV Water. The project was made possible by a grant from the Water Foundation with additional support from INN. For earlier stories in the Tapped Out series, click here.

California’s San Joaquin Valley is one of the richest agricultural regions in the world, but growers there have a problem: Unfettered groundwater pumping has caused the land to sink and the regional canal system to break.

If the agencies in charge of the canals don’t fix them, water deliveries to thousands of farms and some cities across the valley’s $25 billion agricultural economy will continue to be affected, impacting everyone from farm owners to low-wage farmworkers. But repairs are complicated and expensive.

The Friant Kern Canal –– the waterway that is furthest along in repairs –– will eventually cost nearly $1 billion to fix. The 152-mile-long canal pulls water from the distant San Joaquin River through monocropped acres of vines, trees and vegetables. It is an essential artery for agribusiness, and so growers and their irrigation districts — and the politicians who represent them — want the expenses to be partially covered with taxpayer money.

But there’s an issue with the sales pitch. Proponents claim that repairing the canal is vital for the millions living in nearby towns and cities. This is technically true for some canals and some communities, but in the San Joaquin Valley, 90 percent of Friant Kern’s water is used for irrigation, meaning that very little goes to the majority low-income Latino farmworker towns most vulnerable to the impacts of drought. Nearly all of these towns rely on groundwater, not surface water, and projections show that the over-extraction of that resource is only getting worse. There’s no clear evidence that the proposed canal fixes will directly benefit these vulnerable communities’ water access.

“The same political power that caused the problem is the same political power that is continuing to over-pump groundwater,” said Jennifer Clary, the California Director of Clean Water Action, a nonprofit advocacy group. “These canals have been flowing past at-risk communities for decades.”

The pinch point

On a hazy day in mid-October, I met Doug DeFlitch, the Friant Water Authority’s then-chief operating officer, near Terra Bella, California. DeFlitch, a tall man and a measured speaker, shuffled back and forth with his hands in his pockets as we talked. His job, among other things, involved managing the operation of the Friant Kern Canal. (DeFlitch recently left the water authority.) We stood together at the canal’s lowest point — what DeFlitch calls the “pinch point” — a few paces from the placid water creeping south. “This is ground zero,” DeFlitch said, “the bottom of the bowl. We are unable to get as much flow past this location as we once used to.”

The reason that the Friant Water Authority struggles to get as much flow as it used to is because overpumping has caused a portion of the canal to sink and create a large U-shaped depression. Where the gradual slope previously ferried water downhill through the canal’s boxy, open-air concrete mass without a problem, the water now gets stuck in what can be fairly described as a pit — hence DeFlitch’s “pinch point.”

The Friant Water Authority is responsible for getting Sierra Nevada snowmelt to roughly 15,000 farms and a handful of towns across a million acres of industrialized farmland. But over the decades, those surface water supplies have decreased. To continue growing crops like table grapes, almonds and pistachios –– which fetch high prices around the world –– agribusinesses, particularly large corporate growers without surface water rights, dug deeper wells and pumped ever more water. This caused the land to sink, and, ironically, the canal the industry depends on to sink along with it.

The impact of overpumping is landscape-scale and nearly beyond perception, save for certain visual clues. The county bridge, once high above the canal, now barely clears the water.

The Friant-Kern Canal is one of three state and federal canals impacted by such woes. It’s also in the worst shape: About 60 percent of its carrying capacity has been lost, meaning that farms past the pit get less water, and the water ends up costing more for others.

There have been attempts to fix this. In 2018, a state proposal would have funded $750 million in repairs along the Madera and Friant Kern Canals. It failed. Critics maintained that the infrastructure’s real beneficiaries –– private agribusinesses –– should pay for it, not the public.

In 2021, during an exceptionally dry year, the “State Water Resiliency Act” cleared California’s Senate and was poised to deliver nearly $800 million to the same effort. In this attempt, the bill covered only a third of repairs across three canals, including the California Aqueduct, which delivers water to large cities in Southern California. But in September, the bill was halted by the Appropriations Committee because lawmakers were unclear on how public funding would benefit disadvantaged communities or the public –– one of the measure’s central claims. According to Kyle Jones, the policy director at Community Water Center, an environmental justice organization, it also lacked adequate public oversight and accountability.

“The attempt to get public funding was originally structured in a way to make people think it did more than it actually did,” Jones said. “To say that rural communities should be happy because they get what’s left over from industry is the problem. We’ve seen this in the environmental justice movement forever.”

The Friant Water Authority has already secured over $400 million –– a combination of Federal grants, loans, and money from farmers most responsible for over pumping. But they still want the state’s taxpayers to pay the final third. So far, Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised a separate $200 million for canal repair funds.

If the water needs of vulnerable communities were the real priority, taxpayer funds might be spent differently, Clary said. “You could build many groundwater-recharge projects for that much.”

Dry wells

Tooleville, an unincorporated town of 400 people, sits underneath the east valley’s foothills. It’s entirely dependent on the aquifer, despite being bordered on its eastern boundary by the Friant Kern Canal. Gloria and Jose Mendoza live a quarter mile away from the canal. When I visited them in October, Jose had just finished pruning the pomegranate tree in the glaring sun and sunk into a camping chair to relax. Before retirement, the couple worked on farms while raising their two children, Jose said. “We were so good at picking oranges we paid off our house in 11 years.”

Like nearly all the families in the area, the Mendoza family relies on groundwater pulled from the town’s two wells, even though the Friant Kern Canal is just up the road. However, the well water is contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen, and nitrates, the latter a consequence of agricultural runoff. Every day since 2014, they’ve relied on bottled water to drink. This past summer, one of the wells went dry after pumping caused water levels to plummet nearly 200 feet.

“It was scary. We’ve had so many problems with the water,” said Gloria, who volunteers on the Tooleville Mutual Nonprofit Association, whose mission is potable water distribution. “We’ve also had a lot of promises that have not been kept.”

Gloria is skeptical of the claim that repairs to the canal would benefit them. “We haven’t seen any benefits to this date. That public money should be used for things that are going to benefit the community.”

Proponents of publicly funding the repairs disagree. They say that restoring capacity to the canal means getting reliable surface water to agribusiness, which means less groundwater overpumping –– one cause of Tooleville’s water problems.

But plans developed by local agencies in charge of groundwater show that overpumping will continue for another 20 years, causing water levels to drop up to 200 more feet in some places, according to a study by the University of California Davis Center for Regional Change. This could cause half the valley’s 1,200 public wells and up to 12,000 private wells to go partially or fully dry by 2040.

Proponents argue that fixing the canal will help aquifer recharge during wet years, which is essential for getting water back in the ground. But advocates say it’s inadequate, and add that directly assisting disadvantaged communities with recharge is still largely theoretical.

The closest example of this in practice can be found 30 miles west of Tooleville. Aaron Fukuda, who oversees the Tulare Irrigation District, showed me a pilot groundwater recharge project for Okieville, a town of just over a hundred people. The pilot project would take canal water and inject it into the ground at a site near Okieville. Fukuda sees this as a template for how the Friant Kern Canal can benefit disadvantaged communities. “This is essentially a multimillion-dollar science fair project,” said Fukuda. “Anecdotally, we know there’s some benefits to recharge around disadvantaged communities. But we’ve never really studied it.”

Experts say few districts have done what Fukuda’s district has. The pilot project, still a parcel of land with hay bales stacked high, came to the Tulare Irrigation Distract through a philanthropic gesture by a local landowner, Fukuda said.

Recharge, at most, will only remediate 20% of overdrafted water, said Clary, with Clean Water Action, and that is a very rough estimate. Without reducing pumping, recharge won’t provide public benefits to vulnerable communities dealing with dry wells. Reliable surface water to put in the ground is increasingly scarce as climate change eviscerates snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, the source of the Friant Kern Canal’s water.

“It’s a huge bonus for them to fix the canal and sell it by saying it’s going to help poor people,” said Susana de Anda, the director of the Community Water Center. “But it’s not true here. If they need it, they need to pay for it. It’s only going to benefit them.”

Central Valley almond huller faces millions in losses after fire

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE) — A Fresno County almond hulling plant faces millions in financial damages, according to the plant’s general manager.On Saturday, almond hull piles ignited at Superior Almond Hulling in Cantua Creek, a remote area in Western Fresno County.The plant works with over 300 growers and supplies almond hulls across the Cen...

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE) — A Fresno County almond hulling plant faces millions in financial damages, according to the plant’s general manager.

On Saturday, almond hull piles ignited at Superior Almond Hulling in Cantua Creek, a remote area in Western Fresno County.

The plant works with over 300 growers and supplies almond hulls across the Central Valley. The general manager Kevin Long says the fires started due to a combination of natural causes over the last few weeks.

“Internal combustion happens. You get the fire, get the heat. And then we had 50 mph winds,” Long said.

When the fire began it was just a handful of almond piles. Throughout Saturday and through the night, the fire spread to over 30 piles. But into Saturday night, Cal Fire was able to work with plant workers to contain the blaze to the piles and protect buildings and equipment.

“All the employees are safe,” Long said. “No equipment damaged. No structural damage to the plant.”

A spokesperson for Cal Fire tells KSEE24 many almond hull fires are started by spontaneous combustion. A reaction happens within the hulls as they dry which generates heat. Kevin Long has worked in the ag industry for decades and says he’s never seen a hull fire this big.

“There’s really no way to prevent mother nature. A 4 inch rain over 2-3 day period, we just don’t see that here.”

The almond hulls lost in the blaze would’ve been sold over the next several months mostly to dairy farmers for feed. Long and his team are protecting and salvaging what hulls they have left, but will have to navigate how to fulfill orders for their existing clients.

“We had contracts with commodity brokers and dairies for getting this product throughout the rest of the next 6-7 months.”

Long says the fires could burn for up to two weeks. But he says this upcoming week he is meeting with Superior Almond Hulling’s insurance company to look into hiring a private firefighting service because Cal Fire has transitioned the firefighting efforts back to Super Almond Hulling because no structures are threatened at this time. The blaze remains contained in the hull piles.

A Cal Fire spokesperson says the agency is continuing to monitor the situation and will step back in to help if needed.

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