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Small Tulare County Towns,Rural Homes Feel Drought’s Sting

“Wait Till August” – Alan Ishida

June 27,2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 2.36.30 PMWith little surface water this year Tulare County farmers are pumping hard on the aquifer in early summer. But this drought is just getting started. You feel it more in the rural parts of the county. About a dozen small water systems,mostly in farmworker towns, are appealing for emergency financing to restore their systems while home owners in the unincorporated areas see their wells going dry.

County supervisor Alan Ishida says he not surprised by the number of request for help.”We are in deep trouble now – but wait until August.”

Indeed, water engineer Dennis Keller says individual home wells are going dry at a rapid pace. “I’ve been getting about 3 calls a week from home owners looking for help because their well has gone dry.”

“We have 75 more days of the irrigation season and those deeper ag wells will just keep pumping” while more nearby more shallow private wells will be going dry. Keller says monthly measurements of groundwater show they have dropped over 50 ft in a months times in some areas.

County administrator Denise England says an informal count of the number of private wells in trouble as of early June has 35 homes out of well water and another 200 nearly out.That’s only the home owners we’ve heard about” says England. “Those who have contacted an agency for help.We think there are many more.” England, who sits on the county’s Drought Task Force, says there is some funding for private wells but it is limited.

Meanwhile Tulare County’s rural water systems are suffering from drought like the rest of us but arguably more so. This month they are appealing for help from both federal and the state government to drill new wells, lay new line to hook up to larger systems, buy water or add new storage with most applications filed on an “emergency” basis.

Dennis Keller says a number of emergency applications will  get funding quickly as the process has been streamlined  but they will probably not spell relief this summer with the exception of water purchases “This really meant to drought-proof these towns for the next dry year.”

England says some rural systems are getting relief by hooking up to larger water providers. Chinowith Apts in rural Visalia recently hooked up to Cal Water as did Cameron Creek. In rural Porterville,E Vandalia homepark recently hooked up to the city. North of Visalia,Patterson Tract system has added outlying homes.

Near Tulare the rural subdivision Matheny Tract is getting hooked up to city water but now the city is hesitant to start supplying them, says England, as the city itself is facing reduced supply. A new deeper well might be needed to supply those homes.

Recent Requests
Applications for USDA or state help from county towns filed in the past month include Farmersville wanting to connect  to a larger main on the westside of town; the community of Seville seeking fund to build a 15,000 gallons steel storage tank;The Poplar Community Service District wants to repair an existing well in town at a cost of $147,000; Strathmore PUD want $23,500 to purchase 53.4 acre ft of water for residents; the town of London seek help to do a replacement well due to falling groundwater at a  cost $516,000;Terra Bella ID is seeking $310,000 from USDA that will buy 541 acre ft of water for the residents; The town of Springville is seeking $14,600 to fund its river pump operation to bring surface water to the community; The Pixley PUD is asking for $1.02 million to dig a new well and modify two existing ones with water levels falling. All wells will now go below 500 ft; Alpaugh CSD is seeking $149,000 for a water project.As the county’s groundwater situation gets more dire  informed sources say there will likely be a new state groundwater ordinance in place after this season that will limit new well drilling.For now the existing well drillers are backed up and Keller says a number have  come in from out of state to help with the backlog of requests.In Tulare County’s citrus belt farmers too are suffering with a zero allocation this year from the Friant Kern Canal relying on a little surface supply from river runoff, water trades  and their groundwater pumps to make due.”We are seeing everything from trees being pushed over,some trees getting just enough water to keep them alive  with the fruit stripped, using what water they have on their most valuable crop and all other kinds of shifts.” Alan Ishida, a grower himself expects the big loss this year will be in the Valencia crop.How much will it all cost? One measure will be grower’s USDA crop loss reports filed at the end of harvest.

Meanwhile don’t look for much relief from the Bureau of Reclamation fears Keller.Hopes that more water can be released from Shasta later this year are being dashed by recent  lower estimates of what will be available from the state’s largest reservoir – as of September 30, some 200,000 acre ft lower than earlier estimates.

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