The problem with Le Grand's water supply is not drought; it is the large number of huge wells that have been installed for the last decade to irrigate thousands of acres of almonds and grapes planted on seasonal pasture. Politicians at the local, state and federal levels did everything money can buy to stop any opposition to these plantings, which are totally destructive to the natural habitat of 15 endangered species and which have robbed the region of much groundwater besides. And the latter will continue as rural landowners continue to mill aimlessly about in public water gatherings like the state-sponsored and funded Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, known as "Ear-Wimp" perhaps because the participants are incapable of reading anything and only listen to each others' mythological misinformation.
Just the very mention of the term, "endangered species," is enough to get the Blunt Pitchforks to light torches, start howling, arrange themselves in one great circle and commence to stabbing each other. -- blj
Emergency state funding issued to repair Le Grand wells
BY RAMONA GIWARGIS
LE GRAND — State and local government officials joined forces this week to provide financial assistance to a community on the brink of emergency after losing two of its three water wells last month.
Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo, and officials from the state Department of Public Health and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services toured Le Grand’s wells Friday – most of which are aging, out-of-service or experiencing drops in water production.
“I have a lot of sleepless nights right now,” said Richard Kilgore II, public works superintendent of the Le Grand Community Services District. “If we lose another well, we’d have to go to bottled water or have portable water trucked in.”
Kilgore, who’s worked for the district 33 years, said he’s never seen a critical situation like the one Le Grand now faces. He placed a call to Pedrozo, who contacted Gray’s office to help secure state emergency drought funding to repair Le Grand’s wells.
Gray said his role was to bring the situation to the state’s attention and make sure the agencies could act. “This community had an emergency situation,” Gray said. “Let’s get in front of a crisis and solve the problem, and that’s what we did here.”
Le Grand will receive $237,000 in state funds for the first phase of redeveloping its wells, according to Kassy Chauhan, Merced district engineer with the state Department of Public Health. That amount includes $30,000 for bottled water, if necessary. The funding is allocated based on a community’s need and the level of emergency, state officials said.
The money will help rehabilitate a water well drilled in 1966 that collapsed due to its age and another one that had a valve fall out. A third well needs new equipment to reach its capacity of producing 1,000 gallons a minute after it dropped to 200 gallons a minute.
Kilgore said district officials made temporary fixes to some of the wells, but a permanent solution is needed.
If the first round of repairs doesn’t fix the problems, Le Grand could get another $240,000 from the state’s public water system drought emergency funding. That money would be used to purchase private land that contains a well drilled by a developer in 2005.
“The development didn’t happen because the housing market went to pieces, but he already drilled the well,” Kilgore said, adding that it’s 75 feet from a water main. “We’ve gotten permission to test the well, and if it meets state requirements, we’ve already talked to them about buying it.”
Kilgore called the funding a “godsend” and said repairs will start within weeks. Without the emergency funding, he said the community of Le Grand could have been in serious trouble.
The situation already impacted area schools, and education officials were thinking of a backup plan, said Rosina Hurtado, superintendent principal of the Le Grand Elementary School District.
“Toward the end of the school year, our water pressure went really low when the wells started going out,” Hurtado said. “We were getting concerned because we need to have the restrooms functioning and have drinking water for the students.”
Hurtado feared the water shortage could affect businesses that provide local jobs during the summer.
One of those businesses has already made several changes to help conserve water.
“We have to be more careful with water when we’re washing dishes and can’t keep it running,” said Margie Vallejo who works at the Pizza Factory in Le Grand.
“It’s scary thinking we might not have the water,” she added. “It’s a small town. What’s going to happen to us if that happens?”
Kilgore said Le Grand residents are on a “stage 3” water conservation level, which means restricted watering days and the mandatory use of buckets to wash cars. Stage 4 would ban outdoor watering and car washes.
Pedrozo called the current drought the worst he’s ever seen, but said the funding will help prevent a dire situation for Le Grand residents. “Water is our most precious commodity,” the supervisor said. “I think we acted on it quickly enough, and that settled people’s nerves.”
While the well repairs will benefit residents living in the water district, they’re not the only ones suffering from one of the driest years on record.
Longtime growers like the Giampaoli family have been forced to idle 150 acres of land. The family has about 20 private wells on their Le Grand property.
“We’re just hoping the wells we have last for the season,” Dario Giampaoli said. “I don’t know what next year will bring. It’s day by day, I guess.”
Hilmar dairy gets to expand
BY RAMONA GIWARGIS
The Merced County Board of Supervisors unanimously denied an appeal by an environmental group that objected to the expansion of a Hilmar farm during a board meeting this week.
The vote during Tuesday’s meeting cleared the way for the dairy to expand and upheld the Planning Commission’s approval of the conditional use permit.
The Davis-based California Clean Energy Committee challenged the county planning commissioners’ approval of a conditional use permit by Bobby Borba to expand his 1,250-cow dairy to a range of 4,265-4,590 cows.
The expansion would be confined to 29 acres of dairy facilities, located on six parcels totaling 462 acres, according to county documents.
On Sept. 11, planning commissioners unanimously approved Borba’s permit request. The environmental group filed an appeal on Sept. 13 saying the project’s environmental impact report and its findings did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.
Eugene Wilson, who signed the appeal on behalf of the California Clean Energy Committee, did not return calls and email seeking comment.
The California Clean Energy Committee is a nonprofit group advocating for energy efficiency and renewable energy, reduction of greenhouse gases and the development of clean energy resources in California, according to its website.
According to the appeal, the environmental report didn’t mitigate climate impacts of the project or the use of renewable energy resources.
Mark Hendrickson, Merced County director of community and economic development, said the county addressed those concerns in its final environmental review. Still, the California Clean Energy Committee submitted a 1,100-page letter to the county on Nov. 5, the day the item was scheduled for a vote.
“That prompted the board to continue the item to give staff time to review the documents,” Hendrickson said Wednesday, adding that the letter didn’t highlight new concerns with the expansion. “There were no new issues raised beyond what was already responded to.”
Owner Borba said he bought the farm in 2007 and invested nearly $4million to upgrade the dairy to meet state regulations. Borba said he spent roughly $130,000 on environmental reports for the expansion.
“I have put all that money out there and I have to recoup it,” Borba said Wednesday. “One of the main reasons I needed to expand was the bank forced me to either grow or turn around and sell it. We just all need to make a living and I was trying to make things better for the facility and my animals.”
District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo, who has operated a dairy, said Wednesday the dairy industry is already highly regulated and that dairymen are abiding by the rules.
“I don’t know how much more we can put on these dairies,” Pedrozo said. “The only way dairymen are going to make money is to expand their herd. They are state-of-the-art facilities that are meeting all the state codes.”
Borba’s dairy has nine workers and would add nine more during the expansion. County planners said Borba’s plans are consistent with the general plan.
The dairy is on Central Avenue, south of Williams Avenue, in the Hilmar area.