August 9, 2007

Wells open, water flowing in Lucerne Valley

County, CHP, community team up to streamline the process

by Ryan Orr
Victorville Daily Press [Victorville, CA]

LUCERNE VALLEY — The Lucerne Valley residents in the most dire need of water finally started getting it delivered Thursday.

Five water trucks sent by the San Bernardino County Office of Emergency Services were sanitized and delivering water by noon Thursday free of charge, said David Zook, spokesman for 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt.

As of Thursday night, two more were on their way. The California Highway Patrol is working with water haulers that were shut down last week, to streamline the process of getting the proper licenses to get back on the road, said Officer Jeff Perez of the CHP Victorville station.

The water haulers who are not yet able to operate were riding with the drivers of the county trucks to direct them to residents in need, said Chuck Bell, secretary for the Lucerne Valley Economic Development Association.

The county sent out two messages using their Telephone Emergency Notification System, calling all resident in Lucerne to tell them about the situation and where to go for water. It is only the second time the system has been used in the High Desert.

Stater Bros., Sparkletts and Lucerne Valley Market/Hardware all donated bottles of water to the community that were loaded into residents’ vehicles with the help of the Lucerne Valley High School football team.

The county has sent about 1,000 gallons of bottled water to the community and made the county fire department’s water tender available for evaporative coolers and livestock.

“What’s amazing here is how the town has really pulled together,” said Bell. “The citizens have demanded help and it’s happening.”

Zook said that he had contacted the County Economic Development Agency to see about getting small-business loans to help water haulers get the proper licenses.

Last week, a joint enforcement action between the CHP and the state Department of Health, shut down the majority of water haulers in the area for not being properly permitted or transporting unsanitary water.

As of Thursday, Lucerne had five wells open including one at the high school, Lucerne Valley Market/Hardware and one that the county opened up in Midway Park.

“It’s not back to normal,” said Linda Gommel, who works at the hardware store. “The bureaucrats are taking over.”

Mitzelfelt said he will be in Lucerne Valley today to assess the situation and spoke about it Thursday at a countywide water conference in Ontario.

“Their situation was an artificially created crisis,” Mitzelfelt said. “By shutting down a few unlicensed haulers, they created a chilling effect preventing other haulers from coming in.”

Chuck Bell said the community was having a meeting Thursday night to update residents on the situation.

“Normal is going to be a while,” Bell said. “But we’re getting a handle on it.”