NewsTeam 10 Investigates


A boil water order issued in May. Months later, Butterfield Ranch residents still don't have clean water

Butterfield Ranch
Posted at 6:08 PM, Sep 13, 2022

JULIAN, Calif. (KGTV) — People who live in a small East County community have been fighting for clean water for months.

Butterfield Ranch is about 80 miles outside of San Diego. Many of the people who live there haven’t had it easy.

“Life [is] difficult sometimes,” said resident Tina Bussey.

Bussey is confined to a wheelchair. As she deals with physical challenges, she said the lack of clean water makes it worse.

“It’s just been a nightmare,” Bussey said.

The County of San Diego issued a boil water order on May 20. The news release from the county said that the "water system supplies water to 313 service connections which include 75 manufacture home spaces, 233 RV spaces, an office with store, a clubhouse and three swimming pools."

Every day, Bussey — and a few hundred others who live in Butterfield Ranch — must boil their water to kill any potentially harmful contaminants.

The owner of this property confirmed the reason for the order was E. coli present in the water. It is unclear how the bacteria got in the water system.

“[It’s] dramatically affected my life,” she said.

“You need water to live, so it’s extremely important,” said Hilary Ward, the executive director of Backcountry Communities Thriving. “Boiling the water is one thing, but then when you're living in 100-plus [degrees]. How do you cool it?”

Along with other organizations, Backcountry Communities Thriving has spearheaded water donations to the hundreds who live at Butterfield Ranch, but she said it isn't enough.

“I think being so far away from the city, it is hard to get people to come out and work to get out to get help out here to get services,” Ward said. “It is part of living out in the county. We understand that, but I do think that there is an inequity between what the treatment is in the county as opposed to the city.”

Matthew Philbin has owned Butterfield Ranch since 2018. He told Team 10 that multiple water samples are tested in a lab every month. He said they are working on the issues now.

“A state-of-the-art treatment and automated water quality monitoring system is almost designed and permitted then will be constructed immediately,” Philbin said.

He said there has been "clean and reliable water service for the past 60 years with minimal issues until recently.”

According to Safe Drinking Water Information online — data provided by the State Water Board’s Division of Drinking Water — recorded violations at Butterfield Ranch date back to 2005. The website has not been updated to this latest violation, but of those listed, nine were related to coliform. The Environmental Protection Agency calls coliform “an indicator that other, potentially harmful fecal bacteria could be present."

According to Philbin and the data online, these issues were eventually fixed and compliance was reached. Philbin said most improvement projects are already completed with the final component scheduled for later this month.

Until all is fixed, the boil water order remains.

“It’s bull----,” Bussey said. “Everybody up here is handicapped or disabled one way or another, or elderly."

Ward is urging attention to the plight of those living in the rural parts of our country.

“My hope is that the corrective actions will get done as soon as they can,” Ward said. “[I hope] the water system will be fixed and that this community can then rely on having clean fresh water.”