The state has assigned an engineering company to take control of, and improve, the water system in the small Tulare County town of Teviston.
Teviston, a rural community of about 460 people, has been hard hit by water problems for years. The town well broke down in the drought of 2021, leaving families without water and many without any way to cool themselves in soaring summer temperatures. Its water is also contaminated by 1,2,3, TCP, a dangerous carcinogen.
The state Water Resources Control Board gained the authority to appoint administrators to water systems in 2018. Appointed administrators take over struggling systems that can’t deal with issues ranging from water quality to technical and managerial challenges.
Many small systems don’t have the money or people to keep them running properly, said Bryan Potter, senior water resources control engineer at the water board’s southern engagement unit.
“Hopefully the administrator, part of their work would be setting up the proper structures, making sure that that system can be sustainable and then kind of letting them set sail again on their own,” said Potter.
The administrator, an engineering firm called Stantec, will be paid through the state’s SAFER program, which was started in 2019 and has collected $600 million in grant funding.
The process for Teviston took a few months. There was a public comment period but there was no pushback from anyone in the community, said Potter. So Stantec was officially selected by the state.
“I’m glad our community is receiving extra help because it would be really hard for us to reach our goal of providing safe drinking water without it,” said Alazkari Flores, general manager for Teviston Community Services District, in a press release. “I’m looking forward to working with Stantec.”
Teviston’s water system staff have already started projects. A test well was drilled which produced clean water. And plans for a new well are in progress. Stantec will pick up and continue those projects, said Potter.
Once the new well is constructed, if it ends up being contaminated, Stantec will oversee building a treatment plant, he added.
Stantec will also be evaluating future options for Teviston’s system.
“Should it stay on its own? Should it be managerially consolidated to another entity, or should it be physically consolidated to an adjacent water system? They will be doing that level of analysis as well for the long term planning,” said Potter.
Out of SAFER’s funding pool, $25 million has been dedicated to administrator appointments, according to the state’s press release. That is estimated to benefit 4,000 people in 20 communities. Twelve more administrators will be selected for communities within the next year.
Stantec is expected to work in Teviston two years, said Potter. After that, the board will evaluate progress.
“What could happen, and maybe is likely here in Teviston, is that that work plan will get extended,” said Potter.
Stantec will receive $872,215, Potter said.
“The state board is definitely not interested in bringing in Stantec for a short amount of time and then having them leave and leaving the system in a worse state,” said Potter. “It’s like a patient going to a doctor, we want the patient to be fully functional and healthy. That’s what the goal of our administrative work is.”