Water forum tackles drought


This is a third of three reports on a public water forum that was sponsored by the Three Rivers Village Foundation on Monday, Aug. 3. Read the first installment here; Part Two is here.

Kaweah Country water supply— Bobby Kamansky, a local water consultant who has worked with experts from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) on a major study evaluating the watersheds of the Southern Sierra region said that the groundwater in the Three Rivers area is relatively stable. Within all the tributaries of the Kaweah watershed, 54 percent of the land is public while 46 percent is privately owned.    

There are approximately 500 wells in Three Rivers, mostly distributed among the hundreds of privately owned parcels. The majority of these wells are shallow, Kamansky said. 

At least 35 percent of local wells are drilled to a depth of 100 to 250 feet and generally produce adequate flows per minute to meet the residential needs of their owners. The deeper wells are drilled into the underlying hard-rock fissures that collect the underground runoff from the nearby mountains. 

Kamansky cited the example that if 20 inches of rain falls in Three Rivers (1,000 feet elevation) in a typical season, those same passing storm systems might dump two or three times the water content at 10,000 feet, mostly in snow. Much of that water, once the snow has melted, flows downslope not only to fill Lake Kaweah but also refills the rock fissures where local well owners have tapped into underground collection areas. 

When the well runs dry-— The average Three Rivers household uses 185 gallons per day in the winter and 480 gallons per day in the summer. In a normal non-drought cycle, the demand is highest when the supply is highest. 

That’s not the case for river wells or the older, more shallow wells. As water levels drop in the summer those wells often become clogged with sediment or fail altogether. The handful of well failures reported so far this season in Three Rivers occurred among this group of water users.

Several members of the audience inquired as to how they might access the records to older Three Rivers wells on private property. Kamansky said short of contacting the person or company that drilled the well, those records might not exist. 

A driller or pump company could open an existing well and determine depth, gallon per minute flow, and if the well/pump is functioning at adequate pressure. That data can be critical to determine if and when a well or pump might potentially fail.

Down in the Valley— County Supervisor Allen Ishida said there is quite a different situation on the San Joaquin Valley floor. 

“More than 1,500 wells have failed this year alone,” Ishida reported. “Of those failures, 60 percent are drilled to less than 20 feet in depth and are located in the Porterville area.”

Tulare County is providing emergency bottled water to households without water but these properties must drill existing wells deeper or develop new ones. If the property owners do not comply, the residents, 50 percent of whom are renters, must vacate, Ishida said.

County officials are searching for solutions to the housing problem being caused by well failures. 

Time magazine released a video this past week on its Instagram page revealing the drought-related crisis that is affecting hundreds of wells in residential and agricultural areas throughout the central San Joaquin Valley.

Assistance is available— Kristin Dobbin, regional water management coordinator for the nonprofit Community Water Center based in Visalia, said there is help for anyone who experiences a well failure. The Community Water Center exists primarily, she said, to increase access to safe and affordable drinking water for the Tulare Lake Basin’s disadvantaged communities.

“There are a number of federal and state water resources available to help with water supply failures and diminishing water quality due to the drought,” Dobbin said. “Water supply is ever-changing and extremely difficult to predict.”

A good place to seek help is to email kristin.dobbin@communitywatercenter.org or call the Visalia office, (559) 733-0219.

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