Rebuild SoCal Partnership Plays Role in Progress

The City of Needles became front-page news of the Los Angeles Times when their lone pump was at risk of running dry.  In the newest episode of The Rebuild SoCal Zone podcast, Marci Stanage, Rebuild SoCal Partnership’s (RSCP) director for water and environmental relations, talks to Needles City Manager Rick Daniels and Mayor Jeff Williams about their community’s water crisis to learn how it started and what’s happening now.

Steeped in history and aging infrastructure

Needles is a small town established 108 years ago on the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert, where California meets Arizona and Nevada. This old railroad town has been a stop for many weary travelers over the years. With just over 5,000 residents, it’s a small business economy with a mix of locally-owned shops, restaurants, gas stations, and tourism-related businesses like hotels for travelers and “the best boat launch on this side of the Colorado River.”

The city’s population is low-income and is classified by the state as a disadvantaged community because approximately 57% of the population is on some form of government assistance. It’s also one of the hottest places in America. “They say it’s a dry heat. But at 125 degrees, hot is hot,” says City Manager Rick Daniels.

Needles had depended on four wells until California’s water authorities in 2019 notified city officials that three wells failed to meet state standards due to levels of iron and manganese. Suddenly the city was down to one operating well running 23 hours a day.

With a community already short on cash, Daniels admits, “That had high-risk written all over it.  As soon as we realized that the wells were going to be unusable. . .we began a process to find a new one.”

Needles Water Emergency May Benefit Other SoCal Cities

Help they needed

“We applied for grant funding from the state; the money has been allocated by the legislature for water system improvements and repairs and capital projects. And we ran into a stone wall,” said Daniels. That’s when RSCP and the power of journalism worked to make a difference.

Dave Sorem, an engineer on RSCP’s board contacted a Los Angeles Times reporter whose article “caused a lot of action,” says Daniels. City officials received “great support” from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Assemblyman Thurston Smith (R-Apple Valley), State Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), and a number of other elected officials who “stepped forward and encouraged the governor and the state water authorities to break loose the money” available through the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water (SADW) Fund put in place in 2019 to minimize the disproportionate environmental burdens experienced by some communities.

“We were very thankful that Senator Feinstein’s office — even though there’s not a lot they can do at the federal level when you are asking for State funding she did just enough to really get the ball rolling. So we were really happy about that,” said Mayor Jeff Williams. He notes the funding will now be used on a new well and a reservoir to hold enough water for 48 hours.

“We still have a lot of work in the city to get to the capacity of having seven days of capacity,” Williams added, “we also have some infrastructure needs here in the city with our piping and sewer items that we need to replace to make sure we have good drinking water that goes out to our constituents.”

A cautionary tale

The crisis Needles has faced is one that other communities are now starting to realize could happen — or is already happening — with their water supply.  Daniels stresses, “There are small communities all across the inland part of California that are in dire need of help. . . if we can do anything to help any of those communities, we stand ready. 

We’re so grateful for all the help that the Rebuild SoCal Partnership has been able to bring to a small, rural, isolated community that has trouble competing at a statewide level with some of the more urban, larger, well-staffed organizations.”

Listen and learn more

Click to listen now on iTunes or Spotify and hear the full conversation with Needles City Manager Rick Daniels and Mayor Jeff Williams. And click to hear past episodes of The Rebuild SoCal Zone podcast. There are now two new podcast episodes a month! Sign up now to get alerted every time a new episode drops. 

Californians are also encouraged to use their voice. Contact your elected officials to express your concerns about water infrastructure in your community. And stay up-to-date on all infrastructure issues by signing up for the Rebuild SoCal Partnership newsletter. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.