While the wheels of government turn slowly to address contaminated water in a local mobile home park, tenants are caught in the middle, waiting for clean tap water.
State agencies are putting pressure on the owner of Arbor Glen mobile home park in Klamath to provide clean drinking water through a tap system as the park enters its fifth week of contaminated tap water.
“It’s been very hard to get responsible agencies to react as quickly as we all and the community members need them to react,” said Troy Fletcher, executive director of the Yurok Tribe. “That’s the unfortunate thing about this; everything takes time. People’s health is at risk while everyone is taking time to address the issue.”
On Friday, the Yurok Tribe brought a 300-gallon potable water truck to the park to provide water to tenants in the interim. The tribe also started offering shower and bathing facilities to all tribal and non-tribal park tenants.
“We’re not solely concerned with tribal members; we’re worried about the community’s health,” Fletcher said.
Fred Stockett, owner of Arbor Glen in Klamath, switched from a public water system to an on-site well five weeks ago without permits or state approval, according to state officials.
Arbor Glen tenants said they were not notified of the impending switch, but they quickly found out when their faucets started pouring brown, odorous water.
Within weeks, several tenants (including elders and infants) experienced diarrhea and vomiting, according to a civil lawsuit filed by tenants.
Several water quality samples from park faucets have tested positive for total coliform, an indicator bacteria for fecal contamination, according to lawsuit documents.
Stockett’s most recent water testing, taken Wednesday, came back clean, but a test on Tuesday tested positive for total coliform.
“They think it’s bad water but it really isn’t,” Stockett said, adding that he’s done what the state has told him to do, including installing a UV light and filters.
Mobile home parks in Del Norte County are under the jurisdiction of the state — not the county.
“If it was red tape from the county angle, we would take care of it,” said Del Norte County Supervisor David Finigan, whose district includes Klamath.
After multiple inspections, the California Department of Housing and Community Development issued a “final compliance order” to Stockett on July 26, saying he has 35 days to provide drinking water to the park through a tap water system. In the interim, he is required to provide drinking water in some other way, which he has done by delivering gallons of bottled water.
Stockett told residents that he is attempting to clean the system, and he has continually tested the water to see if his efforts are working.
Stockett has been allowed to take his own water samples, as California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said public water systems are allowed to do so and there is “no reason to believe that the samples collected are not representative of Arbor Glen’s drinking water.”
Even though Stockett did not go through the state permitting process, the state is considering the new well a “public water system,” because it looks like Stockett’s plan is to make it a public water system, CDPH officials said.
The water tests Stockett has conducted are extremely limited in scope, only checking for total coliform and E. Coli. The presence of chemicals that could possibly be used to clean the water are not being tested.
“There are questions on whether there’s chlorine in the water,” said Tony Wiedemann, of the California Department of Public Health.
“I know that they’ve been dumping bleach into the well —his own employees said that,” said park tenant Sonny Downs. “I want to know how did you treat the water and what methods were used.”
Stockett had no comment on whether or not chemicals were used to clean the water system, reiterating that he’s done as the state has instructed.
Stockett’s efforts to clean the current system could be a waste of time if the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) makes him start from scratch.
“The current system could not be permitted, because it is not fit for the needs of the park,” said Colin Parent, representative of the HCD. “Right now he hasn’t even provided adequate information for us to determine if there is a solution to use that well.”
The location of the well has caused alarm for tenants. The pumphouse sits in the corner of a former pasture that was used to hold horses within the last year. Pipes run from the pumphouse, through the pasture and then through a leach field before reaching a water tank where water is held before it is dispersed, tenants said.
“It’s sitting in between an abandoned sewer, a leach field and a swamp, and he expects us to drink it,” said tenant Veronica Downs.
Downs is one of several tenants who have filed complaints against Stockett in Yurok Tribal Court. Downs is also among the tenants withholding their July rent checks until the water issue is resolved.
Tenants hope that the park is reconnected to the public water system, the Redwood Community Services District, which the park used for decades.
Redwood CSD informed Stockett that it was turning off Arbor Glen’s water in late June because of more than $9,000 in unpaid water bills.
Instead of paying the bill, Stockett connected the park to the on-site well. He claims that Redwood CSD charged him more than other customers.
The chairman of the Redwood Park CSD, Robert Nulph, said that Stockett is charged the same tiered rate as all water users, but that his facility often uses enough water to push it into the higher tier with a higher rate. Nulph said he suspects that happens frequently because there were leaks in the line that Stockett is responsible for. Arbor Glen’s 35 households were using three times the amount of water used by Redwood CSD’s other 35 households.
“I’m not going to go back to Redwood because they are a bunch of thieves,” Stockett said.
Seventeen Arbor Glen tenants have petitioned Redwood CSD to get reconnected, offering to use their withheld rent checks to pay off Stockett’s debt.
From his communications with state officials, Stockett believes that he will ultimately be allowed to use the on-site well, despite his rogue approach to getting started.
Asked why tenants have had to deal with five weeks of bad water, the Department of Public Health said:
“The time frame for remediation is largely dependent on the financial resources of the water system owner.”
CDPH plans to visit the park next week, and depending on its findings, “improvements to the well may be required to protect it from incidental contamination or specific treatment to ensure the water remains safe for drinking.”
The water lines might also have to be flushed and disinfected, but CDPH gave no indication that Stockett will not be allowed to use the well.
On Friday, tenants were happy to have the on-site potable water truck from the tribe.
“I’m so glad,” Downs said. “I thought this would be over by now, but it’s not.”