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Tooleville connection details reveal $1.1 million project

Tooleville connection details reveal $1.1 million project

Exeter water plan shows City would need to add 1,323 gallons per minute to connect Tooleville to water system, take care of their own

By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

EXETER – Exeter all but accepted their water master plan two weeks ago. The plan gave them a detailed look over what they need to fulfill water demand for now and in the future. And in all 163 pages of it, eight were dedicated to the impact connecting Tooleville would have on the Exeter system. 

The Council waited in order to accommodate Tooleville advocate Pedro Hernandez from the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, and attorney Michael Clayborne who has been representing the Tooleville Mutual Nonprofit Water Association (TMNWA). They noted during the Aug. 13 meeting that they wanted to examine the Tooleville specific pages in the plan before the Council formally accepted it. Hernandez, who spoke at the meeting pointed his finger at the City for obscuring access to the plan.

“We do understand there has been significant communication between the city staff and QK but there has not been much of a public process beyond that,” Hernandez said during his comments at the Aug. 13 Council meeting. 

Exeter city manager Adam Ennis noted later there had been ample communication between the City and Tooleville representatives throughout the water sewer master plan drafting process.

The Council noted they did not have a problem delaying passage as the document was not likely to change after the Tooleville section was reviewed. The Council was likely to pass the plan at their Aug. 27 meeting last night, after press time. 

“If we authorize the master plan it is just what the City of Exeter is looking at with our water system,” Councilman Frankie Alves said. “What I’m trying to get across is that from my understanding it pertains to Exeter’s water infrastructure and that even if it goes into Tooleville it doesn’t go into the stuff we can do in the future.”

Tooleville’s groundwater has been afflicted by levels of hexavalent chromium and bacteria considered to be naturally occurring in the ground by consumer confidence reports. Exeter water sewer master plan note that the wells have since been chlorinated and flushed and are currently clear. However, the water is still unsafe for consumption. Recommendations and concrete solutions have escaped Tooleville for more than a decade, and the master plan has been the largest step toward progress. The plan spells out that adding Tooleville to Exeter’s water system would put an additional 223 gallon per minute to meet the maximum daily demand on Exeter’s system. 

The Sun-Gazette reported last week that the water sewer master plan identified an 1,100 gallons per minute (GPM) deficit to meet California Waterworks Standards for maximum daily demand already. If Exeter intends to add Tooleville to their system the deficit grows to 1,323 GPM. According to Exeter city manager Adam Ennis there is already some work being done to help close the gap, and it started with finding closed valves throughout the city. Ennis said the City stands to increase its water production by 400 or 500 GPM just by finding the valves had been closed. 

Ennis said valves are closed overtime when crews make repairs to water lines. Some portions of the system are complex and require a process of elimination to find the right valve to close. However, sometimes when crews leave the valves are not reopened. By reopening closed avenues for water to travel the City relieves some of the pressure on their water pumps, allowing them to lift more water from the well. 

Another way to cut the deficit is by bringing more wells online. Of the City’s eight wells, six are active and providing a total capacity of 3,325 gallons per minute if all of them run at the same time. The greatest producer is the Park Place well at 1,132 GPM. The City hopes to rehabilitate the two wells that are currently offline to add more water to the system. They have already been successful in the past when consultant Phil Mirwald helped solve a contamination problem with the well at Brick House Park, adding a valuable 611 gallons per minute to the system. 

Ennis adds that there is also the capability of replacing older pumps with newer, more efficient pumps. He said that the City’s pumps run at 75 horsepower, and a new wave of standard pumps in cities run between 100 to 150 horsepower. As well, the ideal place to draw more water would be from wells 6, 9 and 11. Ennis says they have an eight to 20 feet draw down, while normal wells have a 30 to 60 feet draw down. 

All that being said, results would be speculative and it is unknown if they could reach the 1,323 gallon per minute bench mark needed to take care of their own deficit plus connect Tooleville.

3,900 ft. and $1.1 million

After the Aug. 13 meeting Ennis met with Hernandez and Clayborne to discuss water supply and feasibility. Ennis said that he wants to simply represent the facts of the matter when he meets with the Council. 

“I see us laying out the pros and cons and then the Council will have to evaluate them,” Ennis said. “We’ll tell them what the safe thing to do is. If they want to go further that is up to them.”

The path to connecting Tooleville is 3,900 feet of pipe down Firebaugh, and $1.1 million away from being done. Ennis says that Clayborne planned to lobby Sacramento for valuable drinking water infrastructure dollars since Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 200 late last month. However, Clayborne did not return phone calls for comment. 

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Ennis noted that the City is not in a position to fund the major water main project. During the Council’s Aug. 13 meeting, public works director Daymon Qualls noted that the water enterprise fund, and the sewer fund for that matter, is in need of a rate increase in order to extend the life of City’s water infrastructure. The only other way to remedy some of the City’s ailments would be to borrow money. But Qualls says the City is in no position to do that either. Already, 33% of customers’ water bills are dedicated to debt service on capital projects done in the past.

“We can’t take on more debt service. We can’t…staff feels there are some opportunities within the existing system that will not only increase production at some of our wells but also long-term sustainability to make our system last longer,” Qualls said on Aug. 13.

Ennis says the general fund is strapped for cash too.

“We got police cars that are approaching 200,000 miles that can’t replace…you kind of get the picture of where we’re at with the general fund,” Ennis said.

There are other feasible concerns as well that have to be hammered out. Ennis pointed out that Tooleville is not Exeter’s jurisdiction, nor is the land they have to trench to connect the small unincorporated community. Because Tooleville falls in the County of Tulare jurisdiction, if the City needs to collect on bills or fix a problem with the infrastructure, there is another layer of bureaucracy added to the process. 

If the City can find the water supply, Clayborne and Hernandez can find the money and the details over inter-jurisdictional complexities can been ironed out, a solution might be reached. The Exeter City Council is expected to take up the discussion at their Sept. 10 meeting. 

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Editor and reporter for The Sun-Gazette. Vice president of Mineral King Publishing, Inc.

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