What's at stake?

Several thousand people in the Madera Ranchos are at risk for losing their water supply.

On Sunday evening, a well motor failed in a Madera Ranchos community water system that serves around 1,000 homes.

Last week, another well pump stopped working in Parksdale, southeast of Madera.

Neither community has lost water service. Both are experiencing low pressure.

Madera County Public Works runs both water systems.

From Madera Acres to the Bonadelle Ranchos, private wells are running dry at an alarming rate. Self-Help Enterprises, an organization that supports communities with water challenges, has been tracking the problem.

They have now delivered water tanks to more than 200 households in the county.

“It’s a hot spot,” said Tami McVay of Self-Help Enterprises. “During the last drought, Tulare County was overwhelmed. But now, Madera County is getting hit the worst this time.”

“During the last drought, Tulare County was overwhelmed. But now, Madera County is getting hit the worst this time.”

Tami mcvey, self-help enterprises

Brad Perry moved to the Bonadelle Ranchos from the Millerton New Town community near Friant Dam in 2019.

“We wanted more land; everyone was too close together,” he said. “We had some of the most expensive water in Fresno County, and we had water problems, too. One of the selling points of the Ranchos was having my own well.”

His well’s reservoir tank went dry on Sunday, leaving him without water for several hours. The well was drilled in 2018.

Here are answers for southeastern Madera County residents who have questions about their water situation:

What is going on with the Madera Ranchos MD-10A water system?

The well motor that failed June 13 in the Madera Ranchos was on the Fender well, which serves the MD-10A community water system. MD10-A serves the area generally bounded by Avenue 13, Road 36, Kensington Drive and Road 38.

Residents should not have lost water completely because the Dublin well is still running, although some residents have told Fresnoland/The Bee that they have lost water pressure, especially in the evenings.

The Kensington well, which has been offline since 2017 due to manganese contamination, was brought online Thursday to alleviate low pressure caused by high demands on the system.

Samples taken from the well this week show Manganese levels are below the maximum contaminant level regulated by the state.

Madera County recently received grant funding to treat manganese contamination in the Kensington well. Manganese in drinking water is regulated in California for aesthetic concerns, such as brown water, according to the State Water Resources Control Board. However, at very high levels, manganese can cause neurological issues. Historically, the Kensington well has had high levels of manganese.

Phil Toler with Madera County Public Works said that the Fender well is expected to come back online in a few days after the new pump and motor are installed.

Madera County is also in the process of consolidating MD10-A’s water system with Valley Teen Ranch and Golden Valley Unified School District, which have both struggled with water quality and availability issues.

The county received more than $3 million from the State Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund to build a new well and distribution infrastructure to consolidate the systems. The new well, known as the Berkshire well, is expected to start construction next week, according to Public Works officials who spoke at a Wednesday constituent meeting organized by Madera County Supervisor Brett Frazier.

In addition, county officials are working to bring the Charlton well, which failed in 2017, back online in a few weeks.

Ranchos residents have been urged by the county to conserve water immediately and refrain from outdoor watering until the Fender well is back online. The notice to residents says that bottled water is not necessary at this time.

“Ideally, with all of the projects underway, the Ranchos will go from two wells to possibly five by next year,” said Adam Forbes, a senior water engineer with the State Water Resources Control Board, Merced District. “It will be a completely different situation, hopefully.”

What is going on with the Parksdale water system?

Last week, a pump failed on one of Parksdale’s wells, according to Treber. The pump was subsequently deepened and put back online into production. Parksdale residents are now expected to adhere to Stage 4 watering restrictions, prohibiting all outdoor watering. The restrictions could possibly be lifted as soon as next week, according to Toler.

Parksdale has two wells in operation serving about 550 homes, said Toler.

Parksdale’s water system generally serves residents in the vicinity of Road 29 and Avenue 13.

Are any other community water systems in the Madera Ranchos area at risk?

Not that we know of, right now.

Bakman Water Company runs the community water system for Rolling Hills Estates, serving just over 300 homes. Residents are restricted to a two-day-per-week watering schedule as of April 1, 2021, according to their website.

A representative for the Bonadelle Ranchos Mutual Water System could not be reached for comment. According to the State’s Division of Drinking Water website, there is only one well for the system, serving 23 homes, with no backup source of water. A representative from Madera County Environmental Health, which regulates the Bonadelle Ranchos Mutual Water System, said that they have not been informed of any problems by the water district.

MD-95, the water system which serves 27 households in the west end of Madera Ranchos, is also not reporting any problems at the moment, according to a representative from Madera County Environmental Health.

The Riverstone community, served by Root Creek Water District, currently relies on two wells for domestic water supply for over 800 homes. After a well pump in a third well failed in July 2020, the district has been working to convert a nearby agricultural well at Riverstone Farms for drinking water supply, to accommodate the fast growth of the neighborhood. A well motor failed in one of Riverstone’s wells in May and was sent for emergency repairs.

The communities of Sumner Hill and Tesoro Viejo rely primarily on water drawn directly from the San Joaquin River. Earlier this week, the State Water Resources Control Board issued warning letters to water diverters in the San Joaquin River watershed, including Sumner Hill and Madera Irrigation District, who holds the water right to Tesoro Viejo’s water supply. The letter indicates that there is not enough water in the river to divert under their water rights.

Steve Johnson of Cal Water Service, who operates Tesoro Viejo’s water system, said in a May 17 interview that the development has a secure backup supply through a groundwater storage pond on-site for at least a year.

How do I know if my well is at risk for failing?

Loss of pressure at different times of the day and pumping sand are big clues, said McVay. “Sometimes, though, we’ve seen people lose pressure overnight, with no warning.” She recommends that people get their wells serviced annually, if possible.

If I own a private well, whom should I call if my well is giving me trouble?

If you’re experiencing low pressure, or starting to pump sand or air, your well is in trouble. Self-Help Enterprises runs Madera County’s water tank program. Call 559-802-1685 and leave a voicemail with details about your situation. They provide well inspection and a water tank with delivery services, as needed, free of charge to anyone, regardless of income level.

Where are wells most at risk right now?

McVay said that across the San Joaquin Valley, Madera County is particularly bad right now, and especially the Bonadelle Ranchos, where “they’re going dry right and left.”

“The Ranchos have always been an area of concern for us,” she added.

A new state map highlights potential drought and water shortage risks to help residents on private wells. Among those most at risk, according to the state, include areas on the east side of Madera, Fresno and Tulare counties, particularly neighborhoods outside Madera, Orosi, Orange Cove and Porterville.

The risk level is an estimation and lacks some crucial data that isn’t publicly available, such as water levels and the depth of individual wells. Scores are based on exposure to climate change such as temperature and projected wildfire, existing conditions, physical vulnerability, social vulnerability and a record of shortage.

Wells anywhere can be at risk of failing as a result of age, damage, groundwater basin overdraft or new, deeper wells drilled nearby. Some areas are more at risk of declining water levels than others.

Residents who live outside of city limits in unincorporated areas are much more likely to rely on wells pumping groundwater for their running water.

Why are wells having challenges right now in southern and eastern Madera County?

It’s easy enough to point to the fact that we’re in one of the driest years on record and extreme drought conditions are being observed across California and the western United States.

Madera County, like many parts of the San Joaquin Valley, overlies a chronically overdrafted groundwater basin, where far more water has been pumped for agricultural and domestic uses than is being recharged back into the aquifer.

Summer is the peak demand season for agricultural pumping, especially during heat waves. Madera Irrigation District’s irrigation delivery season will not start until June 21.

Most of the land in and around the greater Madera Ranchos area is not located within an irrigation district, which means that the land does not have access to permanent water contracts for river water for irrigation or domestic use, forcing reliance on groundwater pumping. County supervisors recently approved a groundwater allocation for these types of properties as part of a larger effort to bring the groundwater basin into compliance with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Wells that are located above fractured rock — typical for land approaching the Sierra Nevada foothills — are generally higher risk.

That said, wells can fail for a variety of reasons. In the case of the Fender well, in MD-10A, the issue was mechanical, said Treber, at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, and had nothing to do with water levels. He said water levels are far above the depth of the well and well pump.

In Parksdale, the well failed because of lowering water levels, and the pump had to be lowered by 40 feet, according to Forbes.

Monica Vaughan contributed to this story.

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