State and local government officials joined forces this week to provide financial assistance to a community on the brink of emergency after losing two of its three water wells last month.
Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo, and officials from the state Department of Public Health and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services toured Le Grand’s wells Friday – most of which are aging, out-of-service or experiencing drops in water production.
“I have a lot of sleepless nights right now,” said Richard Kilgore II, public works superintendent of the Le Grand Community Services District. “If we lose another well, we’d have to go to bottled water or have portable water trucked in.”
Kilgore, who’s worked for the district 33 years, said he’s never seen a critical situation like the one Le Grand now faces. He placed a call to Pedrozo, who contacted Gray’s office to help secure state emergency drought funding to repair Le Grand’s wells.
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Gray said his role was to bring the situation to the state’s attention and make sure the agencies could act. “This community had an emergency situation,” Gray said. “Let’s get in front of a crisis and solve the problem, and that’s what we did here.”
Le Grand will receive $237,000 in state funds for the first phase of redeveloping its wells, according to Kassy Chauhan, Merced district engineer with the state Department of Public Health. That amount includes $30,000 for bottled water, if necessary. The funding is allocated based on a community’s need and the level of emergency, state officials said.
The money will help rehabilitate a water well drilled in 1966 that collapsed due to its age and another one that had a valve fall out. A third well needs new equipment to reach its capacity of producing 1,000 gallons a minute after it dropped to 200 gallons a minute.
Kilgore said district officials made temporary fixes to some of the wells, but a permanent solution is needed.
If the first round of repairs doesn’t fix the problems, Le Grand could get another $240,000 from the state’s public water system drought emergency funding. That money would be used to purchase private land that contains a well drilled by a developer in 2005.
“The development didn’t happen because the housing market went to pieces, but he already drilled the well,” Kilgore said, adding that it’s 75 feet from a water main. “We’ve gotten permission to test the well, and if it meets state requirements, we’ve already talked to them about buying it.”
Kilgore called the funding a “godsend” and said repairs will start within weeks. Without the emergency funding, he said the community of Le Grand could have been in serious trouble.
The situation already impacted area schools, and education officials were thinking of a backup plan, said Rosina Hurtado, superintendent principal of the Le Grand Elementary School District.
“Toward the end of the school year, our water pressure went really low when the wells started going out,” Hurtado said. “We were getting concerned because we need to have the restrooms functioning and have drinking water for the students.”
Hurtado feared the water shortage could affect businesses that provide local jobs during the summer.
One of those businesses has already made several changes to help conserve water.
“We have to be more careful with water when we’re washing dishes and can’t keep it running,” said Margie Vallejo who works at the Pizza Factory in Le Grand.
“It’s scary thinking we might not have the water,” she added. “It’s a small town. What’s going to happen to us if that happens?”
Kilgore said Le Grand residents are on a “stage 3” water conservation level, which means restricted watering days and the mandatory use of buckets to wash cars. Stage 4 would ban outdoor watering and car washes.
Pedrozo called the current drought the worst he’s ever seen, but said the funding will help prevent a dire situation for Le Grand residents. “Water is our most precious commodity,” the supervisor said. “I think we acted on it quickly enough, and that settled people’s nerves.”
While the well repairs will benefit residents living in the water district, they’re not the only ones suffering from one of the driest years on record.
Longtime growers like the Giampaoli family have been forced to idle 150 acres of land. The family has about 20 private wells on their Le Grand property.
“We’re just hoping the wells we have last for the season,” Dario Giampaoli said. “I don’t know what next year will bring. It’s day by day, I guess.”
Julie Giampaoli said one of her domestic wells, which reached around 250 feet, has gone dry. She urged politicians to think about long-term water-storage solutions.
“You can’t build a dam overnight. We needed this a long time ago,” she said. “Funding is great, but ultimately, we need the long-term storage. If we go completely dry, the nation’s going to feel it.”