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Wednesday, Mar 26 2014 06:00 AM

Water District delays action on well project

Directors of the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District have delayed action on a proposed joint agency agreement with the Golden Hills Community Services District -- slated to help meet water demands during this year's peak period.

The purpose of the item discussed at the water district's board meeting on Wednesday, March 19, was to set a maximum cost for a well proposed to be drilled on property belonging to Golden Hills.

Drilling a new well is part of a list of 13 supply measures recently drawn up by the water district to help meet water demands in a period of prolonged drought. A continued lack of precipitation, coupled with zero deliveries from the State Water Project, has forced the district to take unusual steps this year.

The agreement between the two entities would temporarily give the water district exclusivity for a well set on 20 acres of property on Steuber Road -- which is owned by Golden Hills CSD -- for the next three to five years.

According to TCCWD General Manager John Martin, Golden Hills purchased the land a while back for the purpose of drilling a well later on down the road. But because the water district has shown interest in using it for its own purposes, the CSD has expedited the process, and is close to approving the necessary CEQA documents next month.

Estimates provided by the Provost & Pritchard Consulting group show that the costs for the well would be near $425,000.

Martin added that the proposed agreement would require the water district to purchase the well from Golden Hills up front, and that the water district would be later reimbursed for it at a depreciated value. He said he anticipates the district would recover 80 to 90 percent of the cost, once the well is transferred back to Golden Hills.

However, that wasn't enough to convince some directors who argued that amount is too expensive.

"It's too much money as far as I'm concerned," Director Jean Prel said.

Director David Hadley, who said he preferred to make a decision with all board members present (Director Robert Schultz was absent) echoed Prel's statement, adding that there are too many unknowns associated with the project.

Those unknowns include how much water the well could produce and what other expenditures will come with construction to connect the well to the district's main line. Martin said he hopes it would deliver somewhere around 300 acre feet per year, but that number is not for sure.

"You're always going to have some uncertainty as to what the well will produce," Martin said in a phone interview.

The board voted to postpone the item to a special board meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8, just two hours before a special meeting of the Golden Hills CSD Board of Directors to approve CEQA and award a bid for the project.

"It's an unusual sequence of events and that is being driven by me, because I want to get this pumping by summer," Martin said. "It's really being expedited at my request."

Martin said if the board ultimately decides to scrap the project altogether, it could affect whether all water demands are met this year.

City raises concerns, plans for joint agency agreement

Directors of TCCWD's board aren't the only ones with reservations about the project.

According to City Manager Greg Garrett, the City of Tehachapi was late to find out about the proposed well, and given little time to act.

"We're concerned because it's in our sphere of influence," Garrett said.

When Golden Hills purchased the land a few years back with the intent of drilling a well, Garrett said, the City had already had plans of its own for that area, including using it to spread treated effluent -- which could be thwarted by this project.

"It could maybe affect our plans as to where we plan our next well," he said.

Garrett said he is also concerned with the three entities duplicating efforts and having multiple water lines that cross each other.

As a result, TCCWD, Golden Hills, and the City of Tehachapi are working to form a joint agencies agreement for future water supply coordination in the Tehachapi Valley.

According to John Martin's report to the board, the agreement would serve three purposes: 'to (a) maximize the joint use of existing resources available to each agency, (b) improve the reliability of service to the customers of each agency, and (c) minimize costs to the ratepayers of each agency.'

TCCWD approved a letter of intent for the formation of the agreement, as did the Golden Hills CSD board of directors. On April 7, the same measure will go before city council.

"Lots of things need to be worked out," Garrett said.

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