North Valley Water Tour Centers on Building Water Resilience

North Valley Water Tour Centers on Building Water Resilience

Posted on May 31, 2023

On Wednesday, May 3, 2023, SHE’s Community Sustainability Department hosted its North San Joaquin Valley Tour in Madera and Merced Counties. Forty residents, speakers, guests, and staff traveled to Fairmead, Planada, and El Nido to learn about these communities’ history with water supply and management and how each prepares to become more resilient as major climatic events occur and are anticipated.

The tour kicked off in Fairmead, where Fairmead Community & Friends, a local nonprofit organization, shared the community’s experience with water and infrastructure challenges.  During the previous drought, many domestic wells went dry in Fairmead as the water table plummeted far beneath residents’ wells. Many of these homes still rely on emergency water tanks and bottled water from the previous drought, and many domestic wells continue to run dry during the current drought. Fairmead’s approximately 11-year-old community well began drawing up air and sediment as the groundwater levels dropped below the pump level. In response, Madera County expedited the drilling of a second municipal well. While residents are relieved to have a second community well online, they are concerned that without bold regulatory action, history will repeat itself. Angela Islas of CivicWell discussed how important it is for state agencies to support rural communities, noting how residents such as those in Fairmead guide the state in filling in the resource gaps. Jason Rogers, Director of Public Works, also spoke in Fairmead to share how collaborative efforts have better supported Fairmead’s water needs. 


The next stop included a visit to Planada, where residents heard from Olivia Gomez, Board Member, and Daniel Chavez, District Manager at Planada Community Services District, and Jose Gonzalez, Superintendent of Planada Elementary School. Each shared how coordination between the school and community services district was paramount to finding resources and working with FEMA to rebuild after the flooding that compromised several school buildings. 

Tour participants also visited the Planada Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) located southwest of the community. The WWTP helps avoid discharge into the local creek and serves as an aerobic six-pond system where water travels with gravity from pond to pond as it is treated with bugs. Solar panels are used to power the aerobic systems and provide oxygen for the bugs. The WWTP is seeking to install a solar battery system to continue reducing costs for the Planada CSD and build resiliency against flood impacts that can halt the system. 

The water tour ended in El Nido’s historical schoolhouse that is now used as a Resident Hall. Longtime resident Anne Lewis spoke about her family’s history in El Nido as third-generation farmers and promoting agricultural education with young local residents. Pablo Ortiz-Partida and Angel Fernandez Bou from the Union of Concerned Scientists added how historical excess groundwater pumping for local dairies and foliage contributed to significant land subsidence. According to USGS, El Nido has a rate of nearly one foot per year, among the highest ever measured in the San Joaquin Valley. Subsidence can cause damage to local communities’ infrastructure and water infrastructures, such as already subsiding canals. 

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