John Rieping/The Madera Tribune
From left, Sapien Salas and Hector Martinez both reach for a basketball Tuesday as Matt Lugo watches in Parkwood’s park as behind them stands a 250,000 gallon above-ground tank to store water.
An end is in sight for the longstanding water woes of Madera County’s Parkwood Maintenance District 19. But it may take state, county and city governments five or more years to reach it.
A water-focused state senate bill created both a carrot and a stick to “encourage” the city of Madera to combine the Parkwood water system with its own. But the process will take a while.
The state added to and amended its codes involving public water systems in Senate Bill 88, which the governor approved June 24, 2015. Among other changes, it allows the State Water Board to force the merger of “inadequate water systems” with adequate ones nearby, according to the city’s public works department.
“The state has been advocating for the consolidation of the Parkwood water system with the city system for a number of years,” said a city Public Works Department report to the Madera City Council last month. “The communications changed somewhat with the adoption of SB 88 … State officials have made it clear that they will pursue a mandatory consolidation of Parkwood if a voluntary agreement is not reached.”
Parkwood’s system provides water to 605 homes and 28 businesses southeast of Madera South High School and just outside Madera city limits. Roughly 3,000 residents there rely on water from one well, a lone survivor of a quartet of wells that failed one by one in years past. Unfortunately, that water has an unpleasant appearance, taste and odor due to somewhat high, non-toxic amounts of manganese, a naturally occurring, grey mineral.
A past attempt by the county to reduce manganese levels by oxidizing Parkwood’s water caused greater discoloration, which upset users and so was stopped.
“Manganese is a problem that occurs in a lot of places,” said Dave Randall, Madera public works director. “So it’s not like Parkwood did something wrong and they got manganese in their water. It’s just luck of the draw, right? In order for us to take over the system, that issue would be addressed. We wouldn’t continue to have water with that water quality. That would have to be eliminated. There’s different ways to get that done.”
Unsurprisingly, Parkwood residents seem to favor having the city take over their water system. At the county’s most recent meeting for them, civil engineer Kassy Chauhan of the State Water Resources Board took charge on behalf of the state and informed attendees about the proposed merger of water systems.
“At the end, (county) Supervisor (Max) Rodriguez (asked for) a show of hands ... It was unanimous. Everyone wanted to consolidate with the city,” said Ahmad Alkhayyat, Madera County public works director. “So we’ve done lots of outreach ... The council says this is a friendly consolidation. It’s not forced.”
Once the city’s takeover of the Parkwood water system happens, Parkwood customers will pay the same rates as other city rate payers. Even so, the city does not want Parkwood’s water system to have a negative impact on the city’s water quality or production capacity — not to mention the city’s Water Fund.
“It’s being driven by the city and the state right now,” said Phil Toller, Madera County Public Works special districts manager. “The city wants conditions (met) and the state will be the funding agency for all the improvements for those conditions and consolidation to happen.”
“We have a scheduled meeting to meet with the state and the county so that we can lay out some scenario about how we’re going to proceed,” said Randall. “One of the first tasks is to make an application to the state to fund a study. Seems sort of silly, but anytime you’re going to get money from the state, they want to study it first … So we have to do a planning grant and then they can do construction grants. There’s a lot of variables.”
At this point, negotiations about the water system merger have being going well. “So far everybody’s on the same page. There’s no large points of contention,” Randall said.
Yet that doesn’t mean all will be fixed quickly for Parkwood residents.
“It’s a long process. I can tell you that,” Randall said. “My guess would be — if suddenly things got greased lightning and just happened quick — three years. More likely five … Right now the attitude from the state is pretty much, ‘Hey, let’s throw the money at it and get it done.’ But that could change in six months. Right now ... we’re moving forward with the state process to fast track it. To the public it seems glacial but that’s just the way government works unfortunately.”
Randall said he understands how that may frustrate those living uneasily with unpleasant water, but “there’s not a silver bullet that’s going to change that. Even if today, someone were to show up with a lot of money it still takes time to design things, implement them and put them in.”
A 2015 infrastructure study funded by the city and county “demonstrated $11.4 million in infrastructure deficiencies in that community (of Parkwood), of which something in excess of $2.8 million is related to the water system,” according to the city of Madera’s public works department. The county has since installed a 250,000-gallon above-ground storage tank and is working toward other infrastructure improvements, such as a new well.
“What you’re looking for at the end of the day is a system that works and not just for today,” Randall said. “You want a system that’s healthy perpetually. We don’t want to just fix the moment and then saddle our children with a problem that’s going to be a burden on them later down the road.”
Randall says the city tries to pro-actively manage its infrastructure instead of just trusting that what it has will continue on indefinitely.
“We currently have an infrastructure assessment project going on that will take this year and next year to complete, which sort of addresses that issue for us,” he said. “It updates all our information on the condition and the costs and the relevant factors, so we can manage the system as an asset, just like you would a sub-building or something else. You know what your liabilities are. You know when you have replacements due. You know what your potential risk factors are. You manage those things.”
While fixing Parkwood’s infrastructure issues may take a while, a happy ending for its water woes is at least in sight.
“Once the time comes, it will be a very good system,” said Alkhayyat. “They have a new tank. There’s an application to the state to replace the water mains and a new well. That’s all going to be with the consolidation package that the city will receive.”