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Can't Afford To Dig A New Well? You'll Have To Hire This Guy

Sep 16, 2014

With fires raging in the region and no sign that the drought will ease up, farmers and even homeowners are on the hunt for water. The initial answer is to dig a new well. But wells are expensive. In this piece FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports on a solution that many Valley homeowners rely on.

Water from Clovis is used to fill tanks all over the region.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Eugene Keeney hooks his 2,500 gallon water truck to a fire hydrant on the northern edge of Clovis. 

On the north side of Shepherd Avenue in the city the grass is green and still moist with the water from daily running sprinklers piped in from Clovis’ water system. But the north side of Shepherd Avenue is in Fresno County where residents get water from private wells. From here all we see are brown yards and dried-out dirt driveways.

Sometimes Keeney, with NRK Services, delivers water as far as 50 miles away in Visalia, but today his trip is shorter, across the street.

“In this little neighborhood here I have probably about 10 to 15 customers,” Keeney says.

Many of these wells have run dry and some homeowners are on waiting lists for new wells. But the price of hiring a well driller can be costly and even if a new well is drilled there is no guarantee water is in the aquifer.

"It's the straw effect, long straw and short straw. You know they're a 1,000 feet deep and homeowners are a couple hundred feet deep so as soon they start drawing the water table drops and you lose your water." - Eugene Keeney
Keeney and his father have witnessed their own wells plummet to low levels at their homes near Sanger, Calif.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

“One customer got one done in six months,” Keeney says. “I got another customer that’s been waiting seven months now but they got to go like a 1,000 feet deep and if you want to pay extra they’ll drill your well sooner.”

Keeney has been in the water delivery business for 15 years.  He says the calls for deliveries usually flood in late in the summer, but this year the first ring came in May.  It costs him a buck and a quarter for 1,000 gallons and he charges $150 or more. 

Keeney says the calls increase when farmers with crops near residential areas begin to irrigate.

“Almonds, walnuts,” Keeney says. “It’s the straw effect, long straw and short straw. You know they’re a 1,000 feet deep and homeowners are a couple hundred feet deep so as soon as they start drawing the water table drops and you lose your water.”

Keeney and I delivered a tank of water to a house with two 4,000 gallon tanks.

“She drilled a well three years ago and I’ve already took her three loads this year,” Keeney says.

And that’s why he says this is happening in the rural region just north of Clovis.

Peter Hammar water was reduced to a trickle this summer when his well nearly dried up.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Peter Hammar, who lives on a two and a half acre parcel, is one those customers. He’s had to severely cut his household water consumption since his well was reduced to a dribble earlier this summer.

“We noticed that the tank was filling slower and slower and slower,” Hammar says. “Finally I had the well guy out, Scott Water. Scott’s guy said the well is essentially dead.”

Hammar's acreage was once so full of grass that he was told he had to cut it, but today the drought and his goats have cleared the lot.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Hammar’s yard is sparse. There’s not a weed in sight, just a giant palm and three other smaller trees. He’s turned to living weed eaters to keep his plot tidy and drought tolerant.

You take measures you do the best you can. Putting dishpans in every sink so you collect your rinse water and that becomes your wash water. You take 90 second showers and so on." - Peter Hammar

“Come on you guys wake up,” Hammar tells his goats.

Passed the goats and behind a fence Hammar’s well is pumping at about one cup per minute.

“I have a large green 3,000 gallon tank that you see all over the unincorporated parts of this county and it’s quite empty, you can hear how resonant that is,” Hammar says. “The water is about at the last quarter. That represents probably what about 1,200 gallons still there.”

This lack of water, the high price to buy the resource and the uncertainty of whether a second well is worth it, leaves Hammar and his wife using what little water they have very carefully.

“You take measures you do the best you can,” Hammar says. “Putting dishpans in every sink so you collect your rinse water and that becomes your wash water. You take 90 second showers and so on.”

But Hammar is not alone in this fight for water and Eugene Keeney the water transporter admits to making a profit off this natural resource, but then again he says has to make a living and pay off his truck. Today he’s in Clovis, but demand brings him all over Central California.

“I’ve got calls from Madera Ranchos, I’ve got calls from Sanger, I’ve got calls from Del Rey, I’ve got calls from Easton, Visalia, Oakhurst, Bass Lake – there’s a subdivision up there that wanted me to go every day, but it’s just too far and too hard on the truck,” Keeney says.

And unfortunately that is the fate of many others homeowners in the region, grappling for water when their neighbors have it just feet or miles away.