Earth Log

He’s not drilling a new well — why gamble with $30,000?

As the drought crisis deepens, I’m hearing from more people who are forced to go without indoor plumbing because they do not have $20,000 or $30,000 to replace their dried-up wells.

I’ve also heard from a few folks who could afford to drill a new well. At least one says he will skip it. He asks: What if this drought keeps going and the next well goes dry?

This is the newest face of the slow-motion train wreck spreading through California’s unincorporated areas where folks rely on private wells.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of private wells have gone dry in this desperate four-year drought as farms and cities pump the underground aquifer to replace river water. It will get worse this summer. You’ll see more lives turned upside down, and more people facing big decisions.

Peter Hammar, 65, who lives just outside Clovis, is one of them. He has decided not to drill a new well after his went dry.

He emailed last week to say “wasteful practices” in cities and on farms have added to the “mega-drought, taking away the last of the already-dwindling groundwater from under me.”

Like most of us, he has noticed when people water their lawns in violation of city water restrictions. He also notices when a nearby farmer is flood irrigating, running lots of water down long lines of trees.

To Hammar, some people don’t seem to be taking this drought seriously enough. He said he now personally understands how bad things are getting.

“Facing my new ‘permanent drought’ reality, I’m changing the way I get water, accepting living off of trucked liquid for the rest of my life here,” he wrote. “I’m having Clovis city water drawn from the hydrant at Fowler and Shepherd and delivered to my storage tank.”

He even designed and installed a piping system so the water truck driver can just fill up his 3,000-gallon tank from a convenient spout. He’s having another tank set up so he can accommodate a full 5,000-gallon load of water.

I called him to find out how long his tank of water lasts. He said if he and his wife are careful, they can get by for about a month, maybe six weeks. The 3,000-gallon load costs him $160. The full 5,000-gallon load will be $200.

“The 5,000 gallons could last us two months if we keep conserving the way we do,” he said.

Landscape is probably the biggest drain on water around cities and homes. Does Hammar have a lawn?

He laughed and said he has a yard full of weeds. He maintains the yard with his nine goats. When the weeds are gone, he switches to feeding them alfalfa. He says he likes his goats.

One his biggest luxuries is washing clothes at his own home, he said. A neighbor goes to a laundry facility.

But, make no mistake. Hammar has changed his way of living, he said.

“It’s like finding out that you have cancer and suddenly having to pay a lot more attention to your diet and lifestyle,” Hammar said. “I take everything related to water very seriously.”

Hammar said it is time for everyone to get a little more serious about the drought crisis and water use. That includes cityfolk, farms, industries, government agencies — everyone.

He said he knows he could drill another well deep enough to give him water and wind up paying more than $30,000. But he said it’s too big of a gamble.

“Given the furious agricultural and city groundwater pumping going on all around me, how long might that new well last?” he asked. “I'm not a gambler, especially with the kind of money a new well costs.”

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