Exeter takes last step to start Tooleville water connection

Exeter City Council approves a consolidation agreement between the Tooleville Mutual Non-Profit Water Association and the city, sends it off to State Water Board for approval

EXETER – The saga over connecting Exeter and Tooleville’s water systems entered its most important phase to date on Jan. 24., in which an agreement will now be sent to the state for review.

City manager Adam Ennis said that the approval of the consolidation agreement between Exeter and Tooleville will be one of the last steps before they can execute the project. The agreement outlines the responsibilities of Tooleville Mutual Non-Profit Water Association (TMNPWA) and Exeter for making the water connection a reality. Exeter is now awaiting approval of this agreement from the State Water Board, and if it is approved, they will finally be allowed to break ground on the project. This was a long time coming, as the city has spent years working on a solution to Tooleville’s water woes. 

“Although this effort has not always been easy for Tooleville residents after decades of hard work, advocacy and discussions with the city of Exeter, residents are finally seeing a desperately needed change to add to the safe drinking water,” Elvia Olea with the Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability said. 

Under the agreement, the city will commit to improving the water connection for those within the current TMNPWA service area, which includes residential areas plus a restaurant that sits in Tooleville. Additional service connections will not be extended to new commercial uses or developments. Ennis said that the intent of this water connection is to serve what is already in Tooleville, not future projects.

On the flip side, the agreement reads that Tooleville will commit to support state and city applications for funding and projects that will be needed for the consolidation. They will be responsible for providing information needed for the project, and transferring over any customer accounts and ownership of water infrastructure to Exeter during the consolidation process. 

Ennis noted in the agreement description that the project is contingent upon government funding. Because of this, the rates of residents for both Exeter and Tooleville will not be affected, and city resources will also not be diminished. The consolidation will also be under the agreement that it serves a community outside of city limits, but the consolidation will not be brought into city limits. After the consolidation, water rates and fees for the serviced areas will be subject to covering the costs of operations, maintenance, repair and replacement of the improved water infrastructure.

This agreement was the result of a turbulent summer for Tooleville, as the town’s wells dried up and left them without any water for hydration, hygiene or cooking. On Sept. 13, 2022, the council adopted a resolution for the Exeter-Tooleville Emergency Intertie and Water System Improvement Project. The approval of this resolution enabled the city to finally receive grant funding and begin on a planned water improvement project with Tooleville, whose wells are not only running dry, but have been unusable for quite some time.

“The community had to rely on the county water bottle program for drinking water, which at times is not enough for many families,” Olea said. “Residents were without running water [anywhere from] several hours to a full weekend this past summer.”

This is only an interim solution until full consolidation can be achieved with the city of Exeter over the next eight years. The California Department of Water Resources will fund this project with a $7.2 million grant, and it is expected to take two years to complete. The interim solution will involve installing a new well in Exeter. They are hoping to place it at the intersection of Quince and Davis street, according to Ennis. This well will be attached to a pipeline that runs all the way to Tooleville and will fill their water storage tanks. 

The total cost to the city in order to reach full consolidation over the next eight years would be $15.6 million. That would include an additional well, install a half-million gallon storage tank, replace seven different pipelines and connect lines to a booster pump station. There will be a master meter placed on that location, which would allow Exeter to measure the amount of water used by Tooleville. Tooleville would continue charging residents what they already pay now, but would pay the city of Exeter out of those funds collected.

Exeter has to fix their own water infrastructure before they can reach full consolidation, as the current system couldn’t sustain operations for both Exeter and Tooleville with its current infrastructure. However, Tooleville is currently running off of one well and cannot wait eight years as their water supply continues to diminish, which is why this interim solution was put into play. The last part of the consolidation would be to demolish two of Toolevilles wells that have gone dry, the Alfred well and Morgan well.

Exeter’s new storage tank is currently planned for Dobson Field in Exeter, according to Ennis. When the two cities are able to consolidate, Tooleville Mutual Nonprofit Water Association will no longer exist and residents of Tooleville will pay the city of Exeter for their water.

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