Despite County, City Efforts, Drought Yet Plagues East Porterville

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County-owned potable water tanks dot the front yards of many East Porterville homes, as a temporary fix to non-functioning wells due to the drought. Nancy Vigran/Valley Voice

For most East Porterville residents, more permanent solutions to their water woes cannot come soon enough. However, it may not come very soon, or at least until there is a good amount of rain. For many, their wells have gone dry.

Several homes now rely on potable water deliver to their temporary tanks for showers and laundry. Drinking and cooking water is delivered separately. Others are waiting for their tanks to be installed. Some residents have moved out; their homes now empty and boarded up or simply left open.

But some still have some water coming up from their wells. Luis Ramos, his parents and brothers, who live on S. Maurer Street, are one such family.

“We have a little water,” Ramos said, enough for a shower and to flush the
toilet.

But, “it stinks,” he said.

Their yard has no grass, a large older tree and few shrubs which they nurse along, that remain green.

The potable water tanks for many of the homes are provided through grant funds and managed by Tulare County, whose staff has arranged for regular water deliveries.

The potable water source, located to the west of Porterville in Jones Corner, also known as Village Gardens, has many residents there unhappy with the constant water truck traffic in their area causing what they deem as a potential hazard to their children and wear-and-tear to their already pot-holed roadways. They also have concerns for their local well, which is actually owned by the City of Porterville, but provides water to those living in that unincorporated area.

New Well Being Drilled

A permanent solution is on the way, but will not help with the immediate crisis.

The new county well, which is designated to become part of the Porterville water system, is being drilled directly adjacent to the currently dry Tule Riverbed alongside Olive Avenue. Nancy Vigran/Valley Voice
The new county well, which is designated to become part of the Porterville water system, is being drilled directly adjacent to the currently dry Tule Riverbed alongside Olive Avenue. Nancy Vigran/Valley Voice
The county and City of Porterville are working on an agreement. Although not signed, or even finalized, the county has moved forward with drilling a well on the west side of the city, next to the Tule River, not far to the east from Jones Corner. In theory, while the land is currently owned by the county, this well is to become the property of Porterville once the agreement is finalized and signed, and the well is completed and functional. The well is to be hooked up to the city’s water system and eventually could aide in providing water to 115 of the 1,700-1,800 residences in the unincorporated area of East Porterville.

Drilling for the 1,000-foot deep well began in late August and should be completed within a couple months, said Melissa Withnell, public information officer for the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. The county has hired Dee Jasper and Associates, based in Bakersfield, to handle the job. Dee Jasper and Associates currently maintains all of Porterville wells.

The cost is expected to be $2.2 million, with $1.2 million coming from the California Department of Water Resources, and $500,000 each from the State Water Control Board and the US Department of Agriculture, Withnell said.

Existing Infrastructure Slated for Use

Some residences in East Porterville have infrastructure already in place to accept water coming from the main along the streets, which can be hooked up into the Porterville system. In fact, the city already owns the mains, having purchased the water system more than 30 years ago, said Mike Reed, acting public works director for Porterville.

The system was purchased with the anticipation of someday being annexed into city limits. That infrastructure was repaired and connected contaminated wells had to be destroyed, Reed said.

Some residences there have long been hooked into the city water system. And, now more of it may come into use, prior to any annexation.

In general, “an attempt at annexation should happen first,” he said. “If that can’t happen, an irrevocable decision to accept annexation must take place.”

This decision and a signed agreement as such will need to be made for each of the 115 residences prior to their individual hookup.

Generally an annexation takes place when a developer wants to add land to city limits to utilize water and other city services, Reed explained. That developer pays the fees for studies and legalities concerning that annexation. However, in this type of unchartered emergency and without that having happened, the city will not yet move forward with annexation of that area, although is willing to provide water services with the agreement that the property owner will not fight annexation should that day come.

The 115 properties have met criteria set by the city to allow hookup possibilities. Those criteria included a lot size of 25,000 square feet or less, and being a single-family dwelling that has access to the city’s existing main line, Reed said. From that, the city figured out who in that neighborhood would qualify, which determined the 115 properties.

While East Porterville begins just across N. Leggett Street from the somewhat green Porterville Municipal Golf Course, the furthest approved property for the city’s water use is a little more than two miles from within city limits.

When the time arrives, the water connection fee will be waived by the city for the 115 residences. However, property owners will be responsible for house to main service, a meter and backflow prevention, Reed said.

But this connection will not come as early as the well is completed. Once the well’s ownership falls upon Porterville, the city will not be able to aid the rural community with water until the state’s Emergency Drought Declaration is lifted. If property owners of the 115 approved properties then wish to sign up for city water, they may.

City Has its Own Water Issues

Unincorporated East Porterville begins just across Leggett Street from the maintained and somewhat green Porterville Municipal Golf Course. Nancy Vigran/Valley Voice
Unincorporated East Porterville begins just across Leggett Street from the maintained and somewhat green Porterville Municipal Golf Course. Nancy Vigran/Valley Voice
Porterville, like other South Valley cities, has concerns for its own wells.

“We are having trouble meeting our own demands,” Reed said.

In 2009, the city hired a groundwater hydrologist to review the conditions of the groundwater under the city. This is something, Reed explained, the state requires of any city considering adding commercial development as part of the environmental impact report.

“We were already in overdraft of about 1,200 acre feet,” he said.

It was then city council determined to set aside $150,000 annually for water recharge. The city also owns 450 shares of Pioneer Water Company, which provides an annual dividend of some water as well.

When Success Lake, through the Porterville Irrigation District, recently offered 660 acre-feet of water to the city, there was no hesitation.

“We said, ‘Yes,’” Reed said.

Water was run in two equal cycles a week apart, down the Porter Slough, which runs from the Tule River under East Porterville to the city. The second cycle ended September 12.

“Porterville is very amenable to slough runs with a natural groundwater waterway,” Reed said.

“It’s not a lot of water, but it’s better than none at all,” he added.

It was all the water district had to offer at this time.

Along its way, under East Porterville, the water could have helped some wells and residences out there, Reed said.

Recycled Water May Be in the Future

Porterville is also considering a feasibility study for a recycled water program which could potentially water all open land spaces including the golf course and parks, with an option of it to also serve as a possible recharge to the ground water. Another viable option would be for recycled water to also be used on the city’s 630-acre farming operation, which is currently used to grow non-edible crops such as alfalfa or Sudan grass. With recycled water, this could open its use for edible crops such as walnuts, Reed said.

Talks have begun between the county, the city and Porter Vista Utility District on finding long-term solutions for neighbors whose properties did not qualify for this initial city hookup. A $500,000 feasibility study, the cost of which would fall upon the county’s shoulders, may ensue for all possibilities of providing water to the East Porterville community. The possibility of that study will be discussed by the county’s board of supervisors.

Jones Corner Water Worries Not Necessary

As for the concerns of the Jones Corner residents and their water, currently there is no problem with the amount of the water available for them. That water system was purchased many years ago, included in a package of water systems Porterville picked up when annexing other property, Reed said. Since the city is having trouble meeting its demands on a daily basis, the system serving Jones Corner was the reasonable solution for which to draw water for water for other county communities in need, he said.

The water levels are checked there every two weeks, prior to Porterville City Council meetings, to assure there are not any problems, and there have not been, Reed said. Occasionally, there are electrical problems with the pump equipment, which can be a problem with any well, he said, and those are immediately repaired.

“What I did promise (Jones Corner residents), once (and if) there is a concern, we will stop (allowing the county to take water),” Reed said.

The agreement, when the county started utilizing water from that district, was that it would not take more than 500,000 gallons per month. As of the beginning of September, that amount was 649,500 gallons total.

“They are way under what we agreed they could use,” Reed said¸ adding that the county has been very conscious of everyone’s concerns for water.

The water used by county sources is paid for by the county, through state Drought Relief funds, to the city. Jones Corner residents have long been paying for their water to the city, in the same way and amount as city residents.

Other county water relief efforts have worked out well. For the unincorporated area of Seville, with a water system that could no longer meet the demands of its 500 residents, a new well was drilled in August, 2014 through grant funding, providing a good water source there. Cameron Creek residents, just outside of Farmersville, who were also seeing dry wells, were given the opportunity to hookup to the City of Farmersville water system starting in March of this year. The infrastructure allowing this was also provided through grant funding.

“As I have heard it described,” Withnell said, “’it took us a few years to get into this situation, it will take us a few years to get us out.’”

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