Turning the Water Back On in the Valley, One House at a Time

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Sarah Marquart
(916) 798-9295
504 Home Repair Loans & Grants

When folks in your hometown have lost their homes because they can’t afford to drill a new well, you can’t afford to mess around when it’s time to drill yours.

“The water just started turning brown,” said Joel Hensley, a Korean war veteran and homeowner in the small, northern California town of Red Bluff. “The well here is pretty old--over 40 years old. It was only about 50 feet deep.”

After the tap ran muddy water, it stopped working altogether. Joel, who has lived in his home for 20 years, spared no effort to redrill his well. By the time he found a driller, he already had been to the local county offices for his well permit and plot plan, something the driller normally does.

Even so, staring down a four-month waiting list and a serious bill, Joel needed to find help. Through a family friend drilling a new well at a neighbor’s house just down the street, he learned about USDA Rural Development’s Section 504 Single Family Housing Repair Loans and Grants. Cheri Skudlarek, a Single Family Housing loan specialist in nearby Redding, drove over to Joel’s house to discuss the program, go through the paperwork and lend a helping hand. The last time she stopped by, it was to deliver a check for a $7,500 grant to drill his old well down to 140 feet.

“I want to give Cheri a lot of credit because she really, really helped me,” said Joel. “I got plenty of real good water now. Considering all the things bad, everything has turned out really good. ”

According to Joel, his is just one of at least 25 houses in his neighborhood that have had their wells redrilled. Suffering through the fourth year of severe drought, California’s rural communities have experienced more than their fair share of dry taps, jugs of water from the neighbor, long waits for the well driller, and even bankruptcies.

In Red Bluff, Joel Hensley’s well driller has called him back since, asking for Cheri’s number and information on the Section 504 program, to try to lend a hand to more people who need it.

Fast Facts

Obligation Amount$7,500
Date of ObligationAugust 2014
Congressional DistrictLa Malfa, CA-01
Senator's Last NamesFeinstein and Boxer