Visalia landfill well in state of emergency

The Tulare County Board of Supervisors declare a state of emergency to fast-track well replacement at Visalia Landfill

TULARE COUNTY– The Tulare County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency at the Visalia landfill to replace the Cotton Gin well that could run out of water as soon as April 2023.

The Cotton Gin well is one of two wells located at the landfill. Without the state of emergency, the process to complete the new well would put the operation of the new well out at least five to six months. The need to drill a new well before the old one fails is critical to the landfill to ensure the site is never without enough water which could cause bigger problems.

“We don’t need the additional well today, but we know it could fail over the next several months,” Bryce Howard, Solid Waste Department director of solid waste said. “We’re trying to prevent a situation in which we don’t have water at all.”  

The Solid Waste Department wants the well replaced before it fails completely, which could happen any time over the next several months. The state of emergency was declared to bypass the public bidding process for finding a contractor to complete the project in order to replace the well as soon as possible.  Without the state of emergency, it would take two to three months to design a new well, then another three months for bidding and construction of the new well, given current demand for drilling services.

The critical nature of the current well meets the definition of an emergency. By declaring a state of emergency, the project will not be delayed by the preparation of plans and specifications or by soliciting multiple competitive bids for the construction of the well. Instead the project will go to the bid already solicited by the Solid Waste Department.

The Solid Waste Department obtained quotes from Scott Belknap Well Drilling and Kaweah Pump Inc. for the design, drilling and installation of a new well, estimated to cost a total of $200,000. 

The new well will be significantly deeper than the current well in order to draw water from below the water table. The Cotton Gin well is only 350 feet, which isn’t deep for a well. The water table is low because of the drought, which means the water is not recharging as quickly as the landfill uses the well. The Cotton Gin well has been pulling up sediment into the pump which has caused holes to form in the well casing, which can cause a collapse.

“Our concern is that if we continue to run that well and the casing collapses, we would have to replumb all the buildings and fire suppression equipment that the well supplies,” Luke Felstein, operations director at the landfill said.

The two wells at the Visalia landfill are both over 40 years old. The contractor consulted by the solid waste department estimates that if both wells continue at the current rate of usage, the Cotton Gin well will fail by April 2023. When the Cotton Gin well fails, it will put strain on the landfill’s other well, which cannot meet the water needs on its own.

The water from the well is mainly used for dust control at the landfill in order to stay within emission requirements by the Central Valley Air Board. If the well fails, the site will not be able to control the dust according to environmental regulations.

The Central Valley Air board’s Regulation VIII requires that sites such as landfills limit visible dust to 20% opacity. Water can be applied to unpaved surfaces to reduce dust. Dust control practices protect the health and safety of county staff and the public.

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