Options dwindle as Tooleville well runs dry

One of Tooleville’s two active wells has stopped producing water, prompting action from Self-Help Enterprises and the county

TOOLEVILLE – Plagued with non potable water, Tooleville now faces an immediate crisis as one of the unincorporated area’s two active wells has stopped producing water altogether as of July 20, midway through a brutally hot summer in the Central Valley and just the beginning of drought in the West.

Andi Galdamez, a community development specialist with nonprofit Self-Help Enterprises, helps the Tooleville Nonprofit Mutual Water Association stay in compliance with their water system, which serves about 76 households in the disadvantaged community just east of Exeter. She said the Alfred Street well stopped producing water July 20, after Tooleville residents had told Self-Help they had extremely low water pressure, and the Morgan Street well was producing very little water.

Tooleville receives drinking water by the barrel every two weeks from a county and state funded program, as their water supply has historically been contaminated with nitrates and hexavalent chromium, a heavy metal known to cause cancer. Their water may not be safe to drink, but life gets difficult and dangerous without a water supply to flush the toilet, take a shower, water the lawn or run a swamp cooler air conditioner during a summer of 100-degree heat for months on end.

Tooleville sits elevated closer to the foothills than most of Tulare County’s other communities, and Galdamez said Tooleville’s water operator believes the wells might not be drilled deep enough. She compared the water table to a bank account, and the water and rain the Central Valley gets in the wet seasons akin to depositing revenue in the bank.

“In the summertime, you take out what you had budgeted for your savings, and you start overdrafting your account, it gets super dangerous—where you get to the point where you have no water in the ground.” Galdamez said. “That may be what’s suspected to be happening out there.”

Galdamez attributed two negative factors affecting Tooleville’s water supply issues, the first being residents not cutting back on their usage during the summer.

“They all have really nice yards, and everyone has plants,” Galdamez said. “Everyone likes to have a green yard and likes to water their plants and that’s super normal and valid. But it’s a small community, and unfortunately, because they’re running so low on water, because they haven’t cut back on their water or anything, that’s one of the reasons why they are losing groundwater.”

The two-road town is also surrounded by orange groves, where ag wells are drilled much deeper than private and community wells, depleting the water supply in the area.

“As the water starts depleting, private wells are the first ones to get hurt,” Galdamez said. “Community wells are the second ones and they’re really not that far off.”

Galdamez said Self-Help is in the process of getting a second opinion on the Albert Street well. In the meantime, Self-Help and the county are working to get a 10,000 water tank to Tooleville within the next few weeks. Galdamez said the details of where and how to get the tank into Tooleville are still being ironed out, as the street and where the well is located is too narrow to get a truck through.

“Overnight, it fills up with water when nobody’s using it,” Galdamez said. “In the daytime, it helps them with the water pressure, so that way they have a little extra water on deck to help them out.”

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