State grants funding for Tooleville, Exeter water connection

Exeter receives $7 million to begin the eight year trek to connect Tooleville residents to Exeter’s clean water

EXETER– After receiving funding from the Department of Water Resources, the city of Exeter can finally begin the process of connecting its water system to the community of Tooleville whose residents continue to struggle with water quality and supply issues.

The city of Exeter has been awarded $7.2 million through The Small Community Drought Relief Program, to construct a new well and for an emergency intertie to consolidate water systems with the community of Tooleville. This new well and pipeline is just the start of the full consolidation project. According to Exeter’s city manager Adam Ennis, this phase will take around two years to complete. While working on the emergency intertie, Exeter can work on the other moving pieces moving closer to full consolidation. 

“We’re trying to work towards something in a reasonable way,” Ennis said. “Part of it is if we don’t do this the right way to begin with, it won’t be sustainable in the future, and that’s not going to help [Tooleville residents.]”

The new pipeline needs to span a mile long to reach Tooleville’s water tanks. Exeter has a tentative location for the well in the city, but must go through a testing process to see if it is a viable location with enough water. The speed in which this project will go is all dependent on design, bids and contractors. Ennis said all they have currently is conceptual plans, but nothing a contractor could follow and build. 

According to Ennis, the city is six months to a year out of putting the well and pipeline project up for bid, and breaking ground. However, once this first phase is complete, it is only a temporary fix, providing Tooleville with extra water to fill already existing tanks that supply residents with water. 

This first phase will also include a “master meter” that will track the amount of water being used by the Tooleville community. From there, Exeter will charge Tooleville Mutual Nonprofit Water Association for the cost for water from the new well. Residents of Tooleville will continue to pay their water bill as usual until the final consolidation.

The next steps are many to fully connect Tooleville’s water system with Exeter’s. A feasibility study completed in May 2022, said it could take up to eight years to complete. In addition to the pipeline and well, Exeter plans to build an additional well, install a 500,000 gallon storage tank, install additional pumps and other water line replacements.  The storage take is currently planned for Dobson Field in Exeter, according to Ennis. When the two cities are able to consolidate, Tooleville Mutual Nonprofit Water Association will no longer exist and residents of Tooleville will pay the city of Exeter for their water.

Before the cities are able to consolidate, one large issue is bringing Exeter’s own water system up to a higher standard. Ennis said that while Exeter and Tooleville work to build the well and pipeline, Exeter will have the opportunity to work on some other issues with updating the existing system to expand pipelines currently in place to allow for the amount of water necessary to supply Tooleville. The additional improvements take time and funding.

“[The city has to have] all those other improvements…to be able to reliably provide…into the future,” Ennis said. “But it’s going to take a longer time to get those all done.”

The city of Exeter received information from a feasibility study, laying out what the city would need to do in order for them to connect their water lines to Tooleville. Ennis said this first phase of the project is falling inline with the timeline given from the study. Consultants told city staff it would take about eight years total for the full connection to be made. Funding for the first step in the feasibility process was granted through the Department of Water Resources. The remainder of funding is expected to come from the State Water Board and the SAFER Grant or the Safe and Affordable Funding for Equity and Resilience Program. 

The $7.2 million dollars comes from Phase 8 of the Small Community Drought Relief Program through the Department of Water Resources (DWR). DWR received additional funding through the Budget Act of 2021. As a result, they were able to disperse an additional $121 million dollars to small communities who are struggling as a result of poor water quality, for which Tooleville was a great fit.

Tooleville has been without clean drinking water for decades, forcing residents to rely on water deliveries from the state. They have been pushing for consolidation with Exeter for over a decade. The issue is that cancer-causing chrom-6 occurs naturally in Tooleville’s water due to the erosion of natural chromium deposits in rocks, plants, soil and decomposed animals. A consolidation with Exeter’s water system has been their best hope for access to clean drinking water. 

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