Steven Worthley

Tulare County Board of Supervisors Chairman

East Porterville will reap benefit

East Porterville residents whose wells have gone dry are one step closer to drawing a cool, clear glass of water from their taps.

The Tulare County Board of Supervisors Tuesday accepted a $1.2 million state grant to help bring municipal water service to the county enclave on the outskirts of Porterville, where about 750 domestic water wells have failed in the face of the drought.

Specifically, the money from the California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) Drought Emergency Response Program will be used to drill a well to augment the City of Porterville’s water supply. The supplemental water source, a requirement for service imposed by the city, will provide the water needed to eventually connect East Porterville to the city’s water distribution system.

The additional water source was also a condition for the city to continue to sell water to the county for its household tank program, an interim solution to the water-supply problem in East Porterville. The pressurized tanks are connected to owner-occupied homes where wells have gone dry, enabling residents to draw water to bath, cook, wash clothes and drink. They are filled with water purchased from the city and pumped by county contractors from city hydrants.

The grant is in hand, but the formal agreement between the city and county regarding the well remains elusive. The supervisors declined to approve a formal agreement Tuesday, noting additional action is first required by Porterville City Council.

Porterville acting Public Works director Mike Reed said a few more details of the agreement still need to be ironed out. “It was mutually agreed,” to hold off finalizing the agreement, said Reed of the supervisors’ action. He said the council would have to decide (Tuesday night) to continue to supply the water.

While the details still need to be worked out, the receipt of the grant ensures the county will have the money to drill the well.

The project description calls for a 900-foot deep well to be drilled on county-owned land at the Tule River and Olive Avenue. If the location proves to be unsuitable, two alternate well sites owned by the city are available, Denise England, the county’s administrative analyst for water resources, told the board.

According to the grant agreement, the $1.2 million will cover the cost of designing, drilling and rigging the well. The county will cover the balance of the costs, estimated at about $400,000, perhaps with a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

The project is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, and will be fast-tracked. While no timetable was mentioned, the goal, according to Bill Croyle, emergency program manager at the CDWR, is to “make sure this well gets up and operating as soon as possible.”

The benefits will be long-term if they result in the expansion of the Porterville water distribution system into East Porterville.

“These improvements that are being made are going to have long-lasting beneficial impacts for our folks,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Steven Worthley.

In other groundwater issues, the supervisors declared the loss of county-owned wells at Mooney Grove Park and the Bob Wiley Detention Facility, as well as the loss of the irrigation well at the detention facility’s farm, to be an emergency. The declaration enables county staff to bypass the competitive bidding process and hire a contractor directly to drill new wells.

The board also approved a resolution calling for Gov. Jerry Brown to step up his response to the drought, now in its fourth year. It declared Tulare County as “ground zero for the state’s most serious economic and social water supply reduction impacts.”

The resolution calls for Brown to make changes to Delta water operations to provide additional water for urban and agricultural users, to support federal drought legislation, to lobby federal officials to ease Endangered Species Act oversight that restricts water deliveries, and to impose cuts on developed water delivered for environmental and fisheries purposes.

Supervisors also entered into a memorandum of understanding to join the Tule River Basin Integrated Regional Water Management Planning Group. The group consists of the County, the City of Porterville and 10 water, irrigation and storm water districts in southeastern Tulare County.

The group will develop an integrated water management plan for the region, a requirement to seek state funds for water supply, quality and recharge projects.

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