Exeter public works director says major well back on line but groundwater levels continue to drop
By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
EXETER – Residents found it more than mildly annoying when their water pressure was at an all-time low for weeks. Thankfully, Exeter public works director Daymon Qualls said at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting Well 13 at Park Place was back on line and bringing some much needed pressure to the City’s water system.
Qualls said the well has been on since Saturday, May 19 and the City has been monitoring water pressure consistently. Since the well has been operating public works went from fielding multiple complaints a day to none. But the well is pumping fewer gallons per minute (GPM) than expected. At peak performance Well 13 can bring up 1,500 GPM, the most of any well the City has in operation, but instead is only bringing up 1,000.
Just because there is enough water in the system to provide residents with adequate water pressure now does not mean all is fixed in Exeter’s water system.
Well 6 at Brick House Park is still coming up with traces of nitrates and E. coli bacteria, and for those reasons cannot be introduced into the City’s water system. Qualls says he is working with Phil Mirwald, a 30-year water expert now retired from Cal Water and has worked on problems such as these before. Both Qualls and interim city manager Eric Frost feel confident they can make some headway on the problem, and into production “soon.”
Bringing Well 6’s production back into the fold would add as much as another 1,100 GPM into the water system that already pumps as much as 3,700 GPM now with Well 13 in production. But more than the amount of water the City can put into the system is the infrastructure carrying it to customers.
Qualls said in an interview with the Sun-Gazette earlier this month older parts of town are suffering from weakening and old infrastructure. He added, while work was being done by SoCalGas near Joyner Park where they had to tear out some of the asphalt, an employee lightly stepped on and subsequently broke a small main. Qualls went on to say he found an eroded bolt from the main less than half of its original size when it was put in decades ago.
Leaks in downtown and older parts of town are not unique. Residents have complained for years, in particular during the drought, when they would see water leaks on City property. One of the major reasons why large trucks are deterred from traveling down Pine Street is because of the pressure they put on the infrastructure under the asphalt.
Although, infrastructure replacement is not exclusive to the older parts of town, the City has begun a major renovation project on the northwest residential parts of town as well. Exeter approved a $370,000 water line renovation project because leaks were becoming so prevalent, and the cost per repair was no longer negligible.
Infrastructure is only a portion of the City’s water woes. Despite Well 13 now in production water use at peak hours of the day in the morning and evening hours still stresses the system and sometimes draws down the water reserves from the water tower. The water tower only holds 100,000 gallons of water which, according to Qualls and Frost is not enough for even a moderately growing town the size of Exeter. If there was a second water storage facility, or perhaps a second water tower, the City could help alleviate its water pressure problems at peak hours that way. Qualls said he has been working with the City’s contracted engineering firm Quad Knopf to fast track the prospects of a second tower. Until then Qualls suggested augmenting the City’s watering day hours.
Instead of having watering day hours in the morning, they would shift it to midmorning, and evening hours would shift to late afternoon. Qualls said he borrowed the idea from the City of Porterville to alleviate their lack of water pressure during peak hours. The City Council will hear more specific details about the change in future meetings, likely their first meeting next month.
Aside from infrastructure, well production and peak water use taxing an already over taxed water system, Qualls finds static groundwater levels “alarming.”
According to Qualls’ historical groundwater graph, water levels were at a depth 71 feet in 1969 and have ebbed and flowed with a major dip between 1986 and 1999 where the lowest water level reached 93 feet at the end of 1992. A new low was hit in 2005 when levels were as low as 97 feet. And since 2012 considerable new lows have been hit every year. The city’s groundwater level significantly dropped from 82 feet in 2012, to 125 feet in 2017, and 138 feet this year.
The litany of water issues facing the City has given Qualls reason to pause on issuing will serve letters for new development in the city. Will serve letters are issued to developers when they choose to develop subdivisions or business tracts stating the City is prepared and will provide water to those businesses or homes.
“Were not trying to stifle growth…but to try and add another 300 homes to the already over taxed water system is unreasonable,” Qualls said at last week’s May 22 City Council meeting.
He added, issuing will serve letters to infill projects within town do not make him think twice, but new developments and subdivisions are all but out of the question until the City addresses their water needs. In fact, the Exeter Planning Commission denied a subdivision map presented by Robhana Investments, LLC and Goshen LLC titled The Grove Subdivision deadline extension largely because of the issue of water. An appeal was granted by the City Council after some details were discussed and presumed the City will have a more sustainable water system by the year 2020 which would be the earliest a development would begin.
However, it is not just their own water customers the City needs to look out for. The community of Tooleville east of Exeter is in need of clean water and are clamoring to be connected to Exeter’s supply.
Before anything final can be decided the City Council voted unanimously in favor of spending $25,000 on a comprehensive assessment of the City’s water system and what it would take to bring Tooleville into the fold. The discussion largely centered on the differences between a master meter system or a whole sale consolidation of Tooleville’s 78 connections. Exeter has been wrestling with the situation for years and have consistently said they do not have a solution that works for the City. But past councils and administrations have come to the conclusion they do want to help the small community whose water is plagued with nitrates and sediment. Frost said the affect of the water quality leaves residents in Tooleville without safe drinking water, and wreaks havoc on the residents’ water coolers and water heaters.