State hydrates water project funds for Fresno, Tulare counties

Most recent round of funding from California’s Small Community Drought Relief Program includes communities in Fresno and Tulare counties

Europe, Kiev region, Ukraine - June 2021: Food pipes close-up. An engineer drills a well for water. Drilling rig worker during work. The process of drilling a well for drinking water. Drilling water wells.
Serena Bettis
Published June 16, 2023  • 
1:00 pm

SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Water Resources announced funding for 11 projects as part of the Small Community Drought Relief Program. 

In a press release Wednesday, June 14, the department said the 10th round of program funding will go to projects in “underserved communities,” including Fresno, Tulare, Lake, Marin, Shasta, Tehama, Siskiyou and Tuolumne counties. Parlier and Waterworks District 40 in Fresno County and North Kaweah in Tulare County will benefit from the funds.

According to the press release, Parlier will receive $765,000 to rehabilitate an existing well. Waterworks District 40, which services a small community along Shaver Springs Road, will receive $1.2 million to treat contaminated water and build a new well; and $40,000 will go to the North Kaweah Mutual Water Company in Tulare County to replace a water storage tank.

Kris Tjernell, the deputy director of integrated water management for the department, said the department primarily looks at where the most urgent needs are when deciding which projects to fund and it also takes into consideration the economic situation of the community where the project is located. 

“When factoring those few things in together, what we’re able to do is invest in those projects, those communities, that are the most beneficial to the state as a whole to be addressed,” Tjernell said.

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) launched the Small Community Drought Relief Program in 2021 and has distributed $278 million in grant funding since then. It is part of the DWR’s Human Right to Water effort which aims to “ensure that every Californian has access to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water.”

Communities can apply to the program through Dec. 29 or until the funds run dry. 

Projects funded by the DWR are ones that improve water storage, provide reliable supply sources and create backup power sources for water systems. The program also funds temporary solutions for emergency situations. 

If a community doesn’t have access to safe water, the DWR can help with providing hauled or bottled water to the community and then later on work with them to invest in longer term infrastructure, Tjernell said.

The funded projects may have different needs depending on the specific issue in the area. Tjernell said drought “has a really dynamic number of impacts” to old systems, so the projects may encompass a variety of solutions.

“Oftentimes these smaller communities rely on groundwater for their drinking water supplies,” Tjernell said. “As groundwater elevations fluctuate, that can put a lot of stress on a domestic well or a small municipal groundwater system.” 

For example, the well rehabilitation that Parlier received funding for might come with a need to increase water supply from the well. This could be achieved by widening or deepening the well, or by potentially replacing or moving the well’s pump, among other issues.

Tjernell said the DWR also looks at the readiness of an area to begin the project and address the water needs. Funded projects could then take a series of months to complete, with more complex projects taking up to a year or longer.

The DWR works “hand-in-hand” with the communities it funds “to be able to make use of these funds in an expeditious way,” from Tjernell’s account.

Communities may also receive helping with the engineering and more technical aspects of their projects to ensure issues are addressed as quickly as possible. Tjernell said the state has programs like this one in place to help support California’s small communities that have historically been underinvested in than other areas of the state.

“Climate change clearly affects every community across the state, but in many cases it affects smaller, more vulnerable communities even more so,” Tjernell said.

Since the Small Community Drought Relief Program began in 2021, Tjernell said the DWR has funded 13 projects in Fresno County for $36 million and 15 projects in Tulare County for $30 million.

For more information on drought resources and state water programs, visit

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter