If the city doesn’t receive an emergency water allocation by June, it might have to use toxic well water to avoid running dry
LINDSAY – Like much of the Central Valley, Lindsay is in a precarious spot in terms of water. In February, the city submitted a request for a Health & Safety water allocation to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in order to meet this summer’s water demands. If it is denied, it’s likely the city will need to begin utilizing highly contaminated well water, leaving residents without drinkable water for several months.
“If we don’t get the emergency allocation, then it really puts us in a bad spot,” said Joe Tanner, city manager.
Lindsay’s water is supplied through surface water from the Friant-Kern Canal and groundwater from two wells outside the city. Based on drought-condition water storage levels, there’s a possibility of Lindsay’s surface water allocation to be dropped from the current 15% of the city’s 2,500 acre-feet contract to anywhere between 1% and 7%. If this occurs, the water supply’s remaining balance would need to come from groundwater wells–something the two wells currently used by the city don’t have capacity for.
In this case, the city would need to pump water from Well 11, which was shut down in 2007 due to high levels of chemical contamination.
Water from Well 11 is contaminated with high levels of perchlorate, which disrupts the functions of the thyroid, and nitrate, which decreases the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen and causes health defects like “blue baby syndrome.” If the well is utilized, the city would be required to issue a “Do Not Drink” notification to all residents and water account holders.
“It’s a matter of last resort. It’s something that we will only do if it’s absolutely necessary. But it’s not something that we want to be doing at all,” Tanner said.
Water from the well could still be used for bathing and washing clothes, but not for consumption–and since the contaminates involved are chemicals, boiling the water wouldn’t have an effect on their levels. According to Neyba Amezcua, assistant director of city services and planning, in the event that Well 11 needs to be utilized the city will reach out to the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services for help with providing drinking water to residents. Amezcua has also reached out to the Kaweah Water Foundation about potentially helping provide bottled water to residents as well.
According to Amezcua, Lindsay’s water would only last through June under the city’s current water allocation. She expects to hear from the Bureau of Reclamation by May 15 as to whether Lindsay’s allocation will stay at 15% or decrease.
“Water experts are telling me that if they maintain the 15%, then they’re not going to grant the health and safety allocation. But if they lower the 15%, then there’s the potential that it will trigger it,” Amezcua said.
If the emergency allocation is not granted, the city will need to declare a state of emergency before seeking approval from the Water Resources Control Board to start utilizing Well 11. Stage 5 of Lindsay’s water conservation plan, which prohibits the watering of lawns or other outdoor projects, would then be put in place. The city is currently at Stage 4, which limits lawn watering to twice per week–though the city council has plans at their next meeting to update this to once per week. On April 11, Lindsay halted all irrigation of city-owned green space.
According to Amezcua, the last time Lindsay put in a request for a health and safety allocation was in 2014.
“It was one of the years of high drought, when we were under very critical conditions. But even then, it wasn’t as bad as where we’re at right now,” Amezcua said.
City officials have contacted the State Water Board Drinking Division Staff requesting a meeting in the next week or two to discuss placing Well 11 on standby. Tanner said the city expects to hear back from the U.S. Department of Interior regarding the emergency allocations request within the next 30 days.
“This is the worst case scenario that we’re preparing for,” Tanner said. “We’re hoping to get the emergency declaration and we will continue our conservation efforts no matter what. But we’re coming up against a window here that is enough for us to need to have plans in place to prepare and get everything lined up.”