By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
EXETER – Exeter has been making some headway on fixing what ails their water problem. Just last month Exeter City Manager Adam Ennis received the first draft of a master water system report. And while progress is happening, for some it is not happening soon enough.
Exeter’s water master plan project, approved in July of last year and developed by QK Inc. (formerly Quad Knopf) is intended to identify weaknesses in Exeter’s water system, solutions to those weaknesses and future water needs for the City. As of now, the City is reviewing the report and making notes to send back to QK. And Ennis says he wants to make sure they are as accurate as possible for fear of a mistake when they go to implement solutions.
“If you go out and try to do something and find out it isn’t correct then you’re backing up and you don’t want to get in that position,” Ennis said.
Being accurate takes time, and according to Pedro Hernandez with the Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability, Tooleville is already out of time. Hernandez said the report was intended to come out in December. Ennis says that December was a projection and not a hard deadline.
“We do want to reduce the time it takes to complete the water master plan… we also want to acknowledge that every day this water master plan is postponed is another day that Tooleville goes without safe drinking water which in the State of California is a human right,” Hernandez said at the April 9 Exeter City Council meeting.
Ennis reiterated that accuracy in the plan is paramount to speed.
“We’ve been trying to put together the best most accurate plan that we can…so I know they want it to be done very quickly… we are concerned about getting an accurate plan that we can use and build our system that will last for years,” Ennis said.
He added there is a portion of the plan that does account for a consolidation with the small community east of town. The cost to consolidate Tooleville is currently obscure. Ennis says he wants to inspect the order of improvements and how best to approach some of the components needed.
“Once you change one thing in the water system you can affect everything else, so you need to be careful,” Ennis said.
It is no secret the problems residents in Tooleville face when it comes to their water supply. For years if not decades, contaminants like nitrates, arsenic, bacteria and now hexavalent chromium that affects young people and the elderly, afflict their water supply. Hernandez said in an interview with the Sun-Gazette on the Paper Trail Podcast, that it is widely understood that water in Tooleville is not for drinking or any other type of consumption. The community gets 50 gallons of water a week for cooking, and emergency bottled water for drinking. And even without the hottest months upon us, residents find themselves running out.
“It is not enough which also stresses the need for a drinking water solution now,” Hernandez said. “There are folks who have to travel out to the bottle water machines or buy bottle water or other beverages. There is the fact that people have to buy water on top of the other bills they are already paying.”
In June 2018 Hernandez and Self-Help Enterprises made their case to the City Council to consider a consolidation effort between the two communities when they were going to move forward with the water master plan. Hernandez says there is more political will toward the solutions now than there has been in the past, and Ennis says they have more information on a conceivable consolidation now than ever before.
“This has been going on for decades. And what I can say right now is that we are closer with information than we ever have been,” Ennis said.
Hernandez noted in the interview with the Sun-Gazette that the City is eligible for a $10 million, zero percent interest loan from the State of California. The well would be drilled in Exeter and wheeled to Tooleville. The option was considered a win-win by past administrations as Tooleville would only need between 15 or 20 percent of the well’s capacity and have access to clean water, while Exeter would introduce the remaining 80 to 85 percent of the water into their system to help solve their pressure problems.
Of course, if the City decides not to consolidate with Tooleville, and barring any forced marriage from the State of California, the reality is that Tooleville is under the jurisdiction of the County of Tulare. Hernandez says the County is already operating their waste water treatment system. Hernandez added that water systems are costly and the cost to maintain them are exorbitant. He said a consolidation with Exeter is mutually beneficial and more cost effective in terms of maintenance.
This article was updated on Wednesday, April 24 at 4:19 p.m.