Imagine going into the kitchen to make coffee in the morning, turning on the faucet and nothing comes out? The shower? Dry. Outside spigots? Nothing. For many people in Tuolumne County, that is their reality. “It’s scary,” said Sue Hackett. She and her husband Chris live on a small ranch outside of Sonora. The well on their property ran dry several months ago. “It’s like, what are we going to do with this house? Where are we going to live? With no district water close by, it’s hard to know what to do.”
After four years of drought, the aquifer under their property dropped below the level of the pump in their well. There is nothing left to pump. Many of their neighbors had the same problem and it is still happening—even after a better year for rain and snow. Tuolumne County wells are still running dry today. But for the Hacketts and their neighbors there is an alternative.
A few years ago when the drought was first becoming an issue, Tuolumne County set up a task force to monitor the situation. Almost from the start they noted a steady increase in the number of residential wells drying up, and they knew they were going to have to find a way to help people stay in their homes. Not only is it is the right thing to do, but a few hundred homes that can’t be lived in or sold would drag down home prices and county tax revenue. It was a downward spiral they had to avoid.
The task force began planning and coordinating a multi-agency process to supply water to help people stay in their homes. They came up with three options. If the house is close enough to the Tuolumne Utilities District water main they tap into that and run a new permanent connection. In some cases, they might run a temporary line to the water main that gets the job done. But in Tuolumne County—a lot of people live too far from the nearest water main. The only recourse is to install a tank and truck the water in every week.
The process requires close coordination between several different organizations. When the Environmental Health Department gets a dry-well report, they verify the report with an on-site visit. They make sure to take along some bottled water as an emergency supply. Once verified, they send out people from a non-profit that has contracted with the county to assess the situation. Each site is different—and the solution has to be engineered to fit the existing situation. The non-profit also installs the tank or makes the connection to the water main.
Typically, within three days of getting a dry-well report, they can have a new source of water hooked up to the house. If they go with the tank, as most of the installations have had to do, a local contractor delivers the water by truck. They had to buy and outfit a special truck with a tank and pumps and hoses to bring in potable water. The Tuolumne Utilities District provides the water at several hydrants.
The state pays for most of the program through grant money set aside to help with the drought. Tuolumne County is keeping people in their homes, maintaining the tax base, and they found a way to do it at little cost to the County! “It’s been a life-saver for us,” said Hackett. “Without this, we wouldn’t be here. We would have had to find someplace else to live.”