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Tulare County declares emergency as jail wells fail in drought

Tulare County Sheriff’s Department farm manager Tom Guinn points to the location of a new well to be drilled at the Bob Wiley Detention Facility. He and Capt. Tom Sigley are standing at the site of the old well.
Tulare County Sheriff’s Department farm manager Tom Guinn points to the location of a new well to be drilled at the Bob Wiley Detention Facility. He and Capt. Tom Sigley are standing at the site of the old well. THE FRESNO BEE

The ongoing California drought has caused two key wells to go dry at the Bob Wiley Detention Facility and neighboring jail farm north of Visalia, prompting the Tulare County Board of Supervisors to declare an emergency.

The declaration allows the county to skip the normal competitive bidding process so new wells can be drilled as soon as possible.

Last week, supervisors voted unanimously to appropriate $2.9 million for three new wells, citing worries that the cooling system at the Bob Wiley complex could run short of water and other concerns.

One well will go in at the detention facility, and another will replace the main agricultural well at the neighboring jail farm, which supplies food for jail kitchens.

“I think it’s needed and it’s overdue,” said Capt. Tom Sigley, who oversees detentions. “I’m glad we’re getting our main well back.”

The third will go in at Mooney Grove Park, where trees are being watered only once a week due to a well failure and are at risk of not having enough water to sustain them, the county said.

At the jail complex, two remaining wells are serving about 1,000 inmates at the detention facility and the Tulare County Pre-Trial Facility, plus staff.

If one of those wells were to fail, there would not be enough water to supply the critical cooling system, said Board of Supervisors Chairman Allen Ishida.

“We’d have a real problem with 100 degrees in the facilities,” Ishida said. “It becomes public safety.”

The main well that failed at the detention facility fed a thermal energy storage tank, which cools water for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, according to a county staff report.

Drilling on the new well for the detention facility could begin next week.

The jail farm needs its well to produce alfalfa for cattle, said farm manager Tom Guinn. Alfalfa production has been halted due to lack of water; the animals are being fed stockpiled forage.

The farm produces cattle, pork and vegetables, saving the county several hundred thousand dollars a year in inmate meal costs.

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