Fred Beltran, Sr. and Fred Beltran, Jr.


Alison M. Jones

NWNL Director and Photographer

East Porterville, November 24, 2014

Introductory Note

In pursuing its “Spotlight” on California’s multi-year Mega-Drought, NWNL read of East Porterville’s “homes with no water” disaster in national news. Having already documented the drought’s impact on California agriculture, river flows and reservoir levels, NWNL visited East Porterville as news of hundreds without water at home humanized the drought’s impacts. The Beltran family offered us a model of civic responsibility in the face of terrible situation with little official support.

Freddie Beltran, giving away a well pump



The problem is a lack of rain…. Home wells are not connected to the city water system and only go 20 to 50’ deep, until they hit bedrock. – Fred Beltran, son

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.


NWNL  As father and son, together you are both helping distribute fresh water to homeowners in California’s parched community of East Porterville, here in the arid Central Valley. As you deal with an unusually harsh and extended drought, what is your motivation and what goals do you have to help provide relief? 

FRED / SON  I work with the Porterville Area Coordinating Council,/PACC a nonprofit organization my mom helps run. We in Tulare County’s East Porterville are dealing with a drought mostly impacting eastern and outlying areas of our town which is a lower-class, poverty-stricken area.

We’re giving out 300-gallon containers of water called “totes,” with a power-supply system I developed that re-pressurizes homes for water. Even though this only yields a limited amount of water, homeowners can flush their toilets, take a shower, wash dishes and clean their house. For this, only a few fittings, check valves and different parts are needed. We donate all our time and materials needed by the family so they can be comfortable in their homes.  [Editor’s Note: Totes are poly-caged containers mostly used by farmers handling, moving and storing large amounts of agricultural necessities like fertilizer, water and food.]  

Totes at Porterville’s water distribution warehouse for PACC

NWNL You are a family of angels. How did your mother get involved in this?

FRED / SON   Donna Johnson knew people’s water sources were drying up on the east side of town and brought it to mom’s attention. In the past, my mom had built up trust and rapport with these people by helping them find food, clothing, rental assistance, gas assistance and such. She knows the community, and they’re comfortable coming to her. 

During past freezes that affected field workers, growers and others in town, mom gathered resources and helped. She knew what had to be done during this drought: what we needed and who we needed to contact. We started from there by making a list and getting people to sign up to come here for water. We gave them 300-gallon containers – called totes – for their home. 

Due to various great donations of bottled water and gallons of water from the town, we haven’t yet had to pay for our water distributions. All needed funding was donated by private donations, churches and banks here in town. We just got a $10,000 grant to help pay for materials, gas, vehicles and some of the labor-intensive part of plumbing their homes. We’re starting that, but also waiting for the state and the county to step up to take some responsibility. But they haven’t yet come to the plate with any kind of solution. They’re steps behind us in the process. For now, we’re doing the work. We stepped up and do what we can to care for our community.

Mural in Porterville of earlier days in this Central Valley farming town


NWNL  Since I strongly feel out-of-state people should know about this, will you define the problem and when it started?

FRED / SON   The problem is a lack of rain. We’ve not received the rainfall we’ve usually had. For 2 to 3 years, less and less water has come down from the mountains, due to less snowpack. Home wells are not connected to the city water system and only go 20 to 50’ deep, until they hit bedrock. Those wells dry up because of the sandy loam in our area. Usually, the lake above these hills fills the river with plentiful water amounts through the summer. That replenishes our wells. But that hasn’t happened.

We can’t run water because not enough water runs downriver. Properties directly adjacent and down the road from the river have dried up. Their wells are not producing any water and thus have no water to pump out.

NWNL  How long has the nearby Tule River been dry?

FRED / SON   The Tule River has been dry all year. Water only ran in it for a couple of weeks this year. In previous years, it only ran one or two months – if that. Very, very little water flows down that river.

NWNL  That has been the condition here for a long time then?

FRED / SON   For a long time.  

NWNL  And what’s the capacity for Lake Success?

FRED / SON   I don’t know, but I’d consider it close to empty. I don’t think its water level is at the dam’s release point, even if they opened the river and the gates. 

NWNL  That’s also true of Lake Cachuma, further west of here.

FRED / SON  We’ve had years of sediment filling the lake. I don’t think they thought ahead of time about needing to take out some sediment so we could have more capacity to hold water there. Every year we have less and less water storage capacity due to sediment filling the lake.

The empty Tule River along the edge of town that normally fills town wells


NWNL  What is the solution?

FRED / SON  They’re now looking at drilling bigger wells in the west side of town.  It seems the long-term process will connect everybody to the city system, but that’s a lot of infrastructure, costing millions and millions of dollars. Since it will take years and years to develop, for now people here are stuck having to flush their toilets with buckets of water, and to bathe with buckets of water.  

We’re trying to connect piping as much and as soon as possible; but we’re limited by funding.  We’ve not yet gotten state or county help. It seems they’re not willing to work with us or cut through the red tape for these people needing basic water supplies.  

NWNL  I hear applications and requests have been made. Right?

FRED / SON   Yeah, pretty much. They’re helping deliver bottled water to their homes, but that only goes so far. The current ratio is a ½  gallon of water, per day per person. That’s a ridiculously small amount for covering drinking needs, cooking stews and soups, and personal washing. They don’t include bathing, flushing their toilets or how to clean their home. That’s a sanitary issue when you don’t have running water to clean your home, mop your floor, clean your counters, clean your bathroom.  It’s very hard for people right now. 

NWNL  How many homes are affected now?

FRED / SON  The latest number was 349, or an odd number like that. But that number is growing every day and stretch out to include the other side of town. The other day, an 85-foot well went dry because an agricultural well was drilled nearby. It sucked the water and dried up a nearby resident’s well.  

Contributions of bottled water for East Porterville families with no water


NWNL  How do you explain the lack of awareness of this issue, both here in Porterville and across the state?  

FRED / SON   It seems people have turned a blind eye to it.  It’s not shared enough within the community. Some people don’t even know that there’s a drought going on. Those who are getting city water seem to be totally oblivious to it.

The little water that everybody could reduce and recycle would go a long way to help people without water. Too many take their water for granted. People still water their grass and overuse water in their homes. They need to use water wisely and sparingly.

NWNL  We’re stunned by reports of such avoidance of the issue at hand.

FRED / SON  My father, mother and others who volunteer are stunned, including this elderly couple. A Vietnam veteran with an amputated leg, he’s helping hand out cases of water, because we helped him when he had no water. Now he’s returning the favor by coming back to help others in need.

NWNL  How nice. Do you get any help from your local newspapers?

FRED / SON  At the beginning, they covered it thoroughly; but as time went on. it dwindled. Their focus seemed to go elsewhere; but this problem is not going away anytime soon.

NWNL  The article I read said 700 homes are without water.

Signs in East Porterville offer drilling services – for a cost


FRED / SON  I know those without water represent a big number, but I can’t keep up with the numbers. People come in every day, so I’m out there daily trying to provide hook-ups for people with pumps to get them water. I’m trying to help who I can.

NWNL  And you do that by hooking up pumps for those without water.

FRED / SON   Yes. I’ve created my own water source with this tank. Let’s just call it an “above-ground well.” By connecting a pressurized pump with its own pressure bladder and a switch it pressurizes their home system. Like an on-demand pump, as soon as you turn on the faucet or a shower, the pump kicks on and pressurizes the water needed. When you turn off the faucet, the pump shuts off on its own.

NWNL  Where do the bladders come from?

FRED / SON  These are shipped to Africa, for kids at school, I believe. The kids go to school with water onsite; and before going home, they fill them up with water, and they take them home. Here, people can pick up jugs of water that they need, but in the summertime bladders work well, because you can hang them in a tree. They have a spout so kids can drink from them; or you can wash your child in it, clean them up, cool down, or drink out of it yourself.  

FRED / DAD  I’m not sure how long they’ll have to do that, it may be a 6-month period. 

NWNL  How many homes will benefit from this solution?

FRED / DAD  We’re expecting an order of 700 right now.

A donated tote for holding fresh water that the city can refill from the street

What we’re doing now is an interim effort, so they have water right now.  In many cases, they have plumbing to their houses and hot water now due to what we’re doing. The state may do the same thing, but it will be another month or two before they start this. Meanwhile, we’ve been dealing with this for almost 4 months.

FRED / SON  Logistically there are many problems. Where to put the tank? Where to get power? How to connect power to their homes? There’ are many steps that require us to think outside the box. 


FRED / DAD  The city needs to order the necessary things and know where they’re going to put them. The biggest issue right now is where will they find the water to fill these tanks? They’re trying to get the city to drill some wells, so that the tankers can get water to distribute.

FRED / SON   And that won’t stress the city system…

FRED / DAD  …because county and the state are negotiating with the city to try to help.  In the meantime, people sit there and try to take 5-gallon buckets of water from our totes so they can flush their toilet and have water for bathing. But we have our totes outdoors where it goes down to 45 degrees, so it’s cold water.  

FRED / SON  They’ve placed some portable showers at a church facility. But few people use them because of modesty or embarrassment, especially with their kids. We drive the elderly there when we get to cold weather, but as they get out of the car, they get cold.

FRED / DAD  We hope they use those showers. They were meant to be here 3 months ago, but they only came 2 weeks ago. 

Sinks, showers and toilets at the high school for families without water at home

We’ve had many ideas and listened to what the people tell us they need. It’s been a long process for them to get onboard and do it. They want it to be their idea and take the credit for it.

FRED / DAD  Perhaps that’s why the county is not contributing?

FRED / DAD  The city council people have been in and out and discussed it, but I’ve not once seen our Board of Supervisors here at this site….

FRED / SON  … not even to see what we’re doing.

FRED / DAD  They came once to talk to my wife when we first started. Otherwise, our discussions with the county have been in open meetings, where it’s hard to discuss details.

FRED / SON  They say they’ll get back to us, but we never hear from them again.

FRED / DAD  I’m not sure why they’re not working with us. It’s frustrating. They set up a couple water stations with 5,000-gallon tanks for people. But at one station people need to pump their water out into 55-gallon barrels. Fill-up takes them 1 to 2 hours. It’s  work – and not everybody has a truck to tow their water.  We have a water station right here where people can just open a faucet to get water. But I can’t get it manned.  

FRED / SON  We keep asking the fire departments and people from the county to come help man it so we can stay open after hours, allowing more people to come and get water. They have yet to get back to us on that or volunteer come stay after hours when these people get off work. After people get home, they need water.

Fred/son, manning the water station at the PACC distribution center


NWNL  How are you funding your efforts?

FRED / DAD  Money’s coming in. So far, we’ve run this water station with all this water having been donated. All the work we’ve done has been by volunteers. So far, we’ve given over 200,000 12-ounce bottles of water – and we’re still giving them out.  

At this time of year, we give out fruit baskets and do Toys for Tots, so we can’t and not concentrate so much on water donations. We were hoping that by now, the state and the county would have stepped in to solve the problem. But, as you can see, people are still coming in to get water. 

The state delivers water to your house if you sign up; but some of these people have problems filling out the forms we give them to send it to the county. If they send in the forms, they are supposed to get water delivered in two weeks to their house in gallon containers. But people still come here for water. 

They don’t get enough water. They’re due to get ½ gallon of water per person, per household; but some people don’t get that. Even that it’s not adequate for their cooking, and drinking. They’re running out of water and must get the water we have here.  

An East Porterville youth filling gallon jugs with water to take home


FRED / DAD  Alison, there’s a map I’d like you to see. Many without water are in other areas of the county. There are a couple areas way out west that ran out of water, about 10 miles as you follow the river. Their problem is associated with the river.

NWNL  Could you point on the map to the river, the main street of town, and where the homes without water are?

FRED / DAD  Well, here’s East Porterville, in the county where the Tule River and the Porter Slough run. Most of the homes between these two dry waterways are out of water. There’s an elementary school in Alta Visa, a high school and another elementary school that each have city water. Luckily all the schools have city water.

NWNL  Have those schools helped with this situation?

FRED / DAD  Some local schools are doing water drive-throughs. The high school up here has opened showers to their students that are affected. They recently added a portable station of 24 showers with hot water. The biggest issues are showering with hot water and flushing your toilet. 

Another entity that I belong to just got a $2,000 grant for paper goods so people can use paper goods instead of water to wash their dishes, so that’s another program we’re going to be doing here. I understand the paper goods were ordered, and they just came in yesterday, so they’re picking them up today, so hopefully within the next, there’ll be a lot of paper goods out there to do that.

Materials collected for distribution to help East Porterville at the PACC


NWNL  Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up. Can you tap into the holiday spirit to urge the City of Porterville to help?  

FRED / DAD  We’ve tried as much as we can on the awareness part. For some reason, people seem to have no idea of what’s going on. There are people out of water who don’t know how to get help. Many isolate themselves. They don’t know we have this going on. At this point in time, a fair amount of help is out there for individuals. The state has a bottled water program that delivers water to their homes. We’ve got the showers now.

Why some of these people don’t know these things, I’m not sure. Perhaps part of it is that the county and the state are not advertising or promoting it. We’re not out there self-promoting either. What we do is all by word of mouth, and it has spread.

FRED / DAD  There’s been a lot on TV, so we’re getting donations from New York, L.A., and other parts of the country. But here in the affected area, people are still unaware of what’s going on. We’ve talked to sheriff’s department, and they ask, “What are you doing here?” We explain and they answer, “Oh, we didn’t know you were doing that.”

FRED / SON   They have had no idea what’s going on.  

Porterville’s west-side gardeners fill their decorative fountains without concern


FRED / DAD  People within the community, even in the Fire and Police department, don’t know what’s going on here. That is shocking to me. I guess people either don’t listen to radio or don’t get the paper, but just kind of isolate from their neighbors. 

Probably a good percentage of those affected are farm workers. They get up in the morning; get ready; go to work; do their work; and come home tired. Then they figure out how they’ll get showers or baths and how to cook without water. They end their day trying to figure a way to send the kids to school. I’m not sure how they do it.

FRED / DAD  Typically they are easy to miss because they keep a low profile, for lots of reasons. They don’t make waves. They don’t want it known that they’re here and we’re afraid for them. Many come to us instead of the county and the state because they know us as a nonprofit here for many, many years. They know we’re not government. They’re a bit afraid to ask the county or state what’s going on; probably for that reason, they don’t want to be known. 

Early on in our project, a survey group went out in August going house to house on a Saturday.. People who work weren’t home, but we got a good sampling of what was going. The survey showed how widespread this water problem is. It’s overwhelming. We found out that many more were out of water than were reported.

FRED / SON  At the beginning, many families were scared to report their water issues because they didn’t want their children taken away from them by Child Protective Services/CPS or other agencies because without running water, there were sanitation issues at their home.

FRED / DAD  We heard early on that by law renters are supposed to have potable  water in the house. But many people moved out because they didn’t have water. There are many vacant rental houses; but I think people are now starting to come back.

Mural of immigrant farm laborer, in nearby town of Cutler


FRED / DAD  We’ve had a core of probably a dozen people – predominantly retirees – helping us mostly during the day. But we need someone here in evenings when people get out of work and can pick up water or get forms.

My wife and I have our lives. We care for grandkids after school, which is difficult for us since we have other projects, such as Toys for Tots and food baskets as holidays are come up. We’re trying to do as much as we can with as little as possible. I wanted to be out of this  project by the end of last month. 

I tried to push the county and the state to hurry up to do their part. But we’re in late November now and they say they won’t get going until mid-December. Many might get lucky to get running water at their house by Christmas. And there are many who won’t have water before Christmas, because there’s no way they can supply water resources for 500 homes in one month. 

It took my son and me 3 months to put out about 150 totes and 15-20 pumps. Some people did their own plumbing and have water that goes into their house and through the hot water heater to become hot water. It’s not drinking water, but it’s at least hot water for bathing. I found out I can probably get the Red Cross here, but only if it’s a Federal Disaster. This is a State Disaster, so the Red Cross hasn’t been involved.  

I’ve approached nonprofits such as United Way and self-help groups. They’re very involved with the tanks, pumps and such, but they haven’t put any out, because there’s no grant for them yet. As soon as a grant comes in, then they’ll send people out to do so. They’re just waiting for money to come in.  

A line-up of 3 totes fills the backyards of this group of homes

We’re working with minimal donations and funding, even though we’re kicking butt right now and taking care of business. The Office of Emergency Services talk a big talk, put showers in, and stuff; but we don’t see them out there daily helping these people. They should be asking “What do you need?  How can I help?  What can I do?” They’re just there for show, driving their company vehicles to the shower facilities.

They’re getting paid for that, yet we’re the ones on the front lines, stepping up, talking to these people, seeing what they need, and delivering totes to them. It’s just a show for them. This is an emergency. Why isn’t the Office of Emergency Services taking care of these people without water? 

FRED / DAD  Early on, Home Depot and Lowe’s donated a bunch of 5-gallon buckets early on. We gave out their drought kits for water hoses and about 500 low-flow shower heads they donated. We’ve also had donations from FedEx, and many kinds of groups. We thank these groups for their generosity.

NWNL  And to the entire Beltran Family, I and many, many others appreciate and applaud your generous gifts of time and good will. 

The spirit of the Beltran family, supplying water donations and free kisses!

Posted by NWNL on March 9, 2024.
Transcription edited and condensed for clarity by Alison M. Jones.

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.