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The case of the missing water: Millions of gallons of East Quincy’s water are unaccounted for

Laura Beaton
Staff Writer

For the second month in a row, East Quincy Services District lost millions of gallons of water. Staff was unable to account for 3.57 million gallons in May and almost 1.5 million gallons in April, interim general manager Shawneen Howe said at the June 10 board meeting.

According to director Greg Margason, the losses represent 21.6 percent of gallons pumped in May and 18 percent in April — much higher than the acceptable industry standard of 10 percent.

Howe said employees had thus far been unable to detect any leaks, but were continuing to pay close attention when reading meters.

The board directed Howe to continue searching for leaks and to utilize the district’s leak detection equipment in the quietest and most likely places that leaks might occur: residential neighborhoods near First Street.

Howe said water pipe in that area is mostly copper, improperly laid on underground creekbed, making it susceptible to corrosion and breakage. Further, she said if there was a leak in that area, the water would likely drain into the creekbed, as opposed to bubbling up above ground, making it difficult to detect.

The board decided to revisit the matter of the missing water next month and call in a professional leak-detecting outfit if the water loss is not discovered.

New board member

It didn’t take long to fill the recently vacated seat on the district’s board of directors.

Former director Mike Green resigned his seat at a special board meeting May 21, citing career advancement possibilities as his reason.

John Kolb was sworn in at the district’s June 10 meeting, after being nominated and voted in by a 3-1 margin. Chairman Ernie Eaton was the dissenting vote. The district received one other letter of intent, from former director Howard Hughes, who did not attend the June 10 meeting.

Kolb jumped right into action, joining the other directors — Eaton, Margason, Kathy Felker and Bill Martin — on the business side of the table.

Water conservation kits

In an attempt to help customers conserve water, the district will soon be offering water conservation kits comprised of a mechanical hose timer and a moisture meter.

Because most customers’ water use skyrockets during summer months, offering outdoor water-conservation tools and tips is a way to educate and assist residents in reducing water consumption, board members said.

The kits will soon be available at the district office at 179 Rogers Ave. for a nominal fee of $5.

Will the state step in to manage groundwater?

The district’s attorney, Robert Zernich, posed the possibility of the state stepping in to regulate groundwater usage and cautioned directors to be aware.

Zernich said he heard on the radio that the state is working on legislation that could dictate how much water can be drawn from the ground.

Capital Public Radio’s headline “The ‘Deepest Straw Wins’ in Central Valley Scramble for Groundwater” aptly describes the conundrum of depending on groundwater.

Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said that groundwater usually accounts for 30 percent of water use, but this year the rate is 60 percent.

Years of groundwater depletion coupled with an increase in drilling permits have led to an alarming decrease in groundwater. Capital Public Radio reports that state studies show groundwater levels in the area are 100 feet below the historical low.

Well water is not consistently monitored or regulated, according to Laurel Firestone, co-executive director of Community Water Center, an advocacy group concerned with water issues in California’s Central Valley.

The problem is severe near Fresno, where some homeowners’ wells have run dry. Their relatively shallow wells, frequently 300 feet deep, can’t compete with the deeper wells of commercial farmers, who sometimes drill down 1,000 feet or more.

Firestone says the situation has turned into “a free-for-all. Anyone that can afford to stick a straw into the ground and drill a well can pump close to as much as they need or want,” she said.

Two bills on sustainable groundwater management are now making their way through the state Legislature.

Regular board meetings are held on the second Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. The next meeting is set for July 8.

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