Residents request city help Tooleville

By Reggie Ellis

EXETER-Not many people would argue that Exeter is a blessed community with great schools, a downtown full of locally owned shops and a brand new water system.

Just a mile east of Exeter off Spruce Road, Tooleville residents can boast of the first two as their children attend Exeter schools and they shop in Exeter. But the third is not something Tooleville can afford, unless the City of Exeter can find a way to help. And for the first time, people are publically requesting that the city do something.

"Water is a basic necessity and we need to extend our hand out to them," Richard Ruiz said. "We need to reach out and bless this community and enhance life for everyone."

Ruiz made the statements during the public comment period at the March 22 Exeter City Council meeting. Ruiz, a 1994 graduate of Exeter Union High School, said he had had the pleasure of meeting many of Tooleville's young men while he coached EUHS JV and varsity football from 2000-2001. He was joined by several members who said they felt the same way.

Public Works Director Felix Ortiz said City of Exeter has been working on a plan to connect Tooleville to its water system and, in the process, add another water well. Ortiz said the only thing holding up a deal between Exeter and Tooleville is that connecting the unincorporated community may violate the city's charter status with the state. As a charter city, a lengthy legal process, Exeter is not required to pay prevailing wage for city government projects, which often increases the cost of the project by at least 30 percent. By connecting Tooleville to its water system it may forfeit that privilege.

Tooleville's water problems are a combination of dilapidated wells and pumps, a contaminated water supply and a lack of funds to solve either issue. Last summer Tooleville residents went two to three days without water and had little to no water pressure. Normal water pressure for a home is about 65-80 psi (pounds per square inch). Last summer Tooleville residents only got 20. Some residents said it took a half hour to fill up five gallon bucket. The Tooleville Mutual Water Association expects this summer to be even worse.

Tooleville's water is also unfit for drinking and cooking because of a high level of nitrates. In 2001, a group of Tooleville residents approached the City of Exeter about connecting to the city's water system after the California Department of Health Services (DHS) shut down the association's Morgan Street well after it tested with dangerous levels of nitrates. Nitrates are known to cause "blue baby" syndrome, which, if absorbed by a growing fetus, can be converted to nitrite, a natural inhibitor to the flow of oxygen in the blood stream. The chemical reaction causes shortness of breath and blueness of the skin. Life-long exposure for adults can cause spleen hemorrhaging.

Most residents have to keep drinking water in stock by filling up containers at the Windmill water station on Visalia Road for 25 cents a gallon. On average, residents buy nine gallons a week in the fall and winter, and 18-20 gallons in the spring and summer.

Exeter City Councilman Ted Macaulay said he met with District 1 Supervisor Allen Ishida, County Resource Management Association Director Henry Hash and Paul Boyer from Self Help Enterprises to discuss a solution. He said City Attorney Steve Kabot may have found a way for the City and the Tooleville Mutual Water Association to sign a Memorandum of Understanding that would avoid violating the city's charter status and the possibility of paying prevailing wage for city-funded projects.

The City of Exeter needs a new well because one of its largest wells was shut down in November 2003 because it tested for high pesticide levels. At the May 27, 2004 city council meeting, Ortiz said the well's average monthly DBCP levels were above the state's Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). Another well was shut off for DBCP 20 years ago.

DBCP, or Dibromochloropropane, was used primarily to kill parasitic worms in soybean cotton, vineyards, tomatoes and tree fruit crops, according to the California Department of Health Services. People who drink water with high DBCP levels for many years may experience reproductive difficulties and may have an increased risk of cancer. California Environmental Protection Agency has set the MCL at 0.2 parts per billion, or a microgram per liter. The city's well tested at 0.33 ppb between August and December 2003 for a sixth-month average of 0.27, well over the MCL.

The City of Exeter sent a letter to residents announcing that well E06W had a high concentration of a banned pesticide. However, it has never affected drinking water. Ortiz said that well is now testing at lower levels and may drop low enough before summer time. E06W is the second largest capacity well, pumping 1,200 gallons per minute. He said the city's newest well only pumps 350 gallons per minute.

Ortiz said even if E06W comes back online, the city will have to drill new wells to meet the demand of an increasing population. In December, the city council appropriated $23,000 for drilling a test well to ensure the city has enough wells pumping good quality drinking water. Ortiz reported that two city wells were approaching a level of pesticide concentration that does not meet the state's standards for drinking water. If the city is forced to shut down the two wells, it may cause a water shortage in the city during peak water use months in the summer down the road. Ortiz said it was important to start the process of drilling new wells, which normally takes about six months.

The option of drilling existing wells deeper was suggested, but City Engineer Chuck Sanford advised that drilling new wells was less expensive. Ortiz said a new well costs $75,000 on average. If the City of Exeter decided to connect Tooleville, the community may be eligible for grants to defray the costs of drilling a new well. Councilman Macaulay said that Tooleville's deadline for a grant to pay for drilling a new well was April 8. The council agreed it may need to hold an emergency meeting in the next few weeks to discuss the issue further.

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