Recent developments involving Porterville, Tulare County and California’s Office of Emergency Services have left the future of a new well drilled near city limits in question.
What seemed to be a breakdown in communication had caused a sudden halt to the joint venture that could provide a permanent solution for some South Valley residents whose wells have dried up.
Until recently Tulare County and Porterville were working closely together in efforts to not only provide a temporary source of water to hundreds of county residences in the area, but also toward the common goal of a more permanent solution.
The county was able to obtain state emergency funding to drill a new well just outside of Porterville city limits. Drilling began in late August and is now complete. Only water testing, the electricity and some additional infrastructure to hook-up the well is left to be done. The intention was for the well to be linked into the city’s water system.
But in November that came to a standstill. State officials decided it would be in the county’s best interest to develop a water filling station at the new well site, where water could be tapped to truck to those in need.
“This is an ultra-high priority,” said Eric Coyne, of the Tulare County Economic Development Office. “We hope to have the well tested and put into service within 30 days.”
The county has had to find water sources from all over the county and even in Clovis to provide water for those who have dry wells, he said.
“At many levels this has been put at the front of the line,” he said. But now, that seems to be on temporary hold, also, with the three agencies trying to come to an agreement.
One thing they do all agree on is that the functionality of the well needs to be determined, which requires some testing.
That testing should take about six to eight days, said Mike Reed, Porterville’s acting public works director.
Then, perhaps, some final decisions will be made.
At a joint meeting in early November, “the state seemed to have the impression that Porterville was not interested in the needs of those outside city limits,” Reed said.
“Porterville is also hurting,” he said, “and while that is adding additional problems – the state misunderstood.”
Throughout the emergency drought situation, Porterville has made it clear that it must look out for its city and residents first, but has been more than willing to help out county residents as much as it can without adding to much further strain to the city’s water supply, Reed said. Water was being used from a nearby system, in Jones Corner (also known as Village Gardens), which is owned by Porterville, and trucked by the county to fill temporary tanks outside of individual homes.
That water system had been monitored regularly, twice a month, to assure there was plenty of water for its regular users as well as the county’s extra need.
At a second meeting in mid-November, state officials seemed upset that the city was not willing to help with those outside of city limits, Reed said.
“That was not the case, I really struggle with how they got that impression,” he said.
Nevertheless, state officials stated that the county must come first and that a filling station was in order.
A filling station was never to be in the cards, Reed said. The city would have never moved forward with the new well, or the water allocation for the county, had the possibility of a filling station been part of the picture.
“Porterville agreed to a seamless project and made it very clear to the state (and the county),” Reed said, that the well would not be a filling station.
“That would have killed the deal,” he said.
The institutions’ verbal agreement (with no formal agreement signed) was that the new well would become the property of the City of Porterville, Reed said. It would be added to the city’s current water system and in exchange 115 already approved residences in the East Porterville area would be allowed to hook-up to the city system for permanent water, with hook-up fees waived.
More residences could be added to those already approved, Reed said, but the first 115 were those that met the city’s criteria of being a single-family residence and having a water main in front of the residence already in place. These homes would be allowed connection as soon as the state’s current emergency drought declaration would end.
But with the potential lack of the new well for the city’s use, any allotment to outside sources had to be halted, a decision made by Porterville City Council on November 17. A decision for which the city has been chastised.
The county had reached an agreement to use water from a well at the Porterville Development Council for up to one million gallons of water per month, just prior to this.
“I think there was an expectation that this well would come into service in a much shorter timeframe,” said City Manager John Lollis.
This complicated the need for the county to find more water sources for its residents, and it was thought that making the new well a filling station would be a quick fix, he said. But, it wouldn’t be the long-term solution.
The city has been working very hard to get this back on track, Reed said, wanting to stop the development of a filling station, but rather moving back to the original plan of hooking the well into the city’s water system.
“It is a win-win for all parties involved,” he said.
While visiting the issue was to be on the December 1 city council agenda with county and state representatives to be in attendance, it was pulled from the agenda at the last minute as officials from the three entities have been involved in several conference calls during the previous week to 10 days.
It appears any further recommendations will wait until the well tests are complete.
The cost for the well to be completed and operational is estimated at $2.2 million, with half the expense coming from the California Department of Water Resources and the other half split between the state Water Control Board and US Department of Agriculture, according to Michelle Withnell, spokesman for Tulare County.
Despite slightly above average rainfall for the Porterville area so far this year, the area and the state have and will have drought concerns for some time to come.
Until there is enough water built up in Success Lake to allow routine releases of water down the Tule River and into the Porter Slough, many private wells will remain inactive, Reed said. And even then, some wells may be inoperable and the water quality for drinking and cooking may be questionable. If the wells become operational again, each residence will need to be unhooked from their temporary water tanks and re-hooked back to their well system, which could again become problematic next summer.