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Tuolumne Supes Hear Need For Groundwater User Outreach

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Sonora, CA — Briefed Tuesday on deteriorating water conditions, the Tuolumne County supervisors also got an earful on a serious need for groundwater users to step up.

It was hardly a surprise that the supervisors unanimously agreed to extend the state’s emergency drought measures for another 30 days. Ahead of the vote, County Office of Emergency Services (OES) Coordinator Tracie Riggs reported 31 additional intakes since last month’s report and that her office continues to receive a growing number of more phone calls about issues relating to failing wells and springs.

Currently, Riggs says, the county is processing 99 referrals for some type of water delivery and/or tanks, and that 75 tanks are in the process of being installed. As the office is fielding an uptick in calls from the Groveland area, plans are in the works to arrange a partnership and water purchasing agreement with Groveland Community Services District (GCSD) that is similar to the county’s arrangement with Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD). She also indicated that her office and Environmental Health Director Rob Kostlivy will be meeting Thursday with TUD staff about the financial viability of connecting pocketed locations within the TUD service area that are showing vulnerability.

Tap Water Turning Orange, Brown

Kostlivy minced no words in making his report. “We are seeing a record number of wells and springs drying up, and we are also seeing water quality diminish — once clear water from the tap is now orange and brown,” he stated. In the past two weeks the county has experienced a huge intake that he described as “almost doubled.” Impacted homes, according to his figures, now number close to 300, with 192 wells and eight springs under duress.

“We’re definitely seeing pockets [of affected areas]…generally where there are larger communities, like Tuttletown…Jamestown,” he remarked, adding that as water levels diminish, water quality becomes a concern, making tests necessary to check for higher concentrations of toxic constituents like arsenic and asbestos. Meanwhile, ranchers on some agricultural lands may need to look into relocating cattle, or check into possible well or water development assistance, such as through the Farm Services Agency’s Stanislaus office.

With the county now entering the hottest and driest times of the year when water usage goes up, Kostlivy also called for heightened awareness and more serious conservation efforts among groundwater tappers. Referring to the strong El Nino weather system that the state seems likely to be on the receiving end for this winter, he commented, “I’ve heard that Santa Claus is on the way.” However, he pointed out, any rains the Mother Lode might be in store for would replenish surface water first. He noted, “It will be up to four years before that water makes its way into groundwater.”

Let The Grass Die

Subsequently, the environmental director recommended increased outreach to those on wells and springs, especially those beginning to experience issues, should consider letting grass die, resort to gray water or change watering habits instead of focusing diminishing resources on keeping lawns green. “I know it’s asking a lot,” Kostlivy noted. “But what I’m seeing out in the field…in the studies…individuals on our well systems really need to prepare themselves,” he stated somberly. Those who do not, he added, might well face a $5,000 pump fix or $20,000 hit for a new well, along with a three-month waiting time for a driller.

On a brighter note, Riggs indicated incoming relief support from two sources: the sheriff’s department and Nestle Foods. OES, working with Rob Lyons from the sheriff’s office, will shortly be able to tap water delivery assistance from Search and Rescue and CSU assets, including personnel, trucks and trailers, Riggs shared. She also confirmed the Nestle Company responded to her request for additional water supplies and that, earlier today, received delivery of a 54-foot trailer full of water on pallets. The company, which provided a similar supply back in May, has enabled what she described as a “huge part of our response” to residents in need.

Six dry well assistance workshops have also been calendared for this month, as previously reported. Riggs says these low-key outreach events are meant to provide residents with opportunities to “sit down, work through issues, ask questions and perhaps fill out an intake to Environmental Health to arrange for an assessment.”

‘Good Things’ At Lake Don Pedro

Other positive news came from Pete Kampa, general manager of Lake Don Pedro Community Services District (IDPCSM), where customers have been maintaining a 50 percent conservation standard. In sharing his report, he noted, “A couple of really good things have happened.” First, Merced Irrigation District (MID) has been able to maintain 60 feet of water under the Don Pedro pumps, due to receiving necessary state and federal approvals from water and other environmental agencies to reduce downstream releases and have the ability to pump below minimum pool.

Secondly, he said, “We’ve been working like crazy to get four wells installed or enough wells to give us 350 minimum gallons per minute that will meet our wintertime demand.” Two wells, estimated to deliver 200 gallons per minute through the end of the year and 100 percent funded through state grants are now about halfway through construction but could also be quickly brought online earlier, if needed, he stated. Additional prospective supplies include wells yet to be drilled on a 17-acre property purchased for the purpose.

While conservation efforts have caused revenues to take a $120,000 hit and expenditures are running $500,000 over budget, Kampa indicated that the district was getting a strong handle on major pipe leakage problems that have plagued its circa 1960s system due to improper construction. “We’re on top of that now and moving forward with a $3 million project to address the leakage from the first of year,” he shared, adding that the project should be completed within six to nine months.