Another valley town on the brink of going dry

July 23, 2021
Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern
by Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern
Tooleville is a tiny farming town east of Exeter in rural Tulare County.
Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern
Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern

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The small, rural community of Tooleville is on the brink of going dry after one of its two wells went down Friday morning. It’s the second community in Tulare County to suffer water problems in the last two months as California struggles through the grip of a devastating drought.

The only well in the town of Teviston, also in rural Tulare County, broke down June 9 leaving residents there dry until the pump was fixed July 16.

Tooleville, population 340, has one primary and one back up well, according to Andi Galdamez, community development specialist with Visalia-based nonprofit Self-Help Enterprises. Self-Help works with disadvantaged communities on housing and water needs.

Tooleville’s backup well went dry Wednesday because of dropping groundwater tables due to the drought, said Galdamez.

“We are at a bit of a loss on how to address low water supply,” said Galdamez.

Water came back into the system a few hours after it went out. Self-Help is working on installing a storage tank in Tooleville to help mitigate demand on the main well.

But things aren’t looking good for the main well either, Tooleville’s only remaining water source.

“There is fear of the other well, of that one going dry too,” said Galdamez. “That one is kind of on its last leg.”

Galdamez said the main well’s water levels are very low.

Like many small communities in the San Joaquin Valley, Tooleville has struggled with water problems for years. Its groundwater supply is contaminated by hexavalent chromium, a toxin that has been linked to cancer. The contaminant occurs naturally but is also produced from industrial manufacturing.

In 2014 the state set a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for hexavalent chromium. But in 2017 the California Manufacturers and Technology Association and the Solano County Taxpayers Association sued the State Water Resources Control Board for not conducting the proper economic feasibility study on that MCL. The Sacramento Superior Court ruled against the state Water Board, forcing the board to withdraw its MCL, meaning hexavalent chromium is largely unregulated.

Tooleville is still on the state’s radar, however. Residents receive biweekly bottled water deliveries through the state funded Tulare County bottled water program.

For more than a decade, residents in Tooleville have been trying to get connected to the nearby city of Exeter’s municipal water system. But so far, Exeter officials have refused.

Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern }

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.

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