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When water runs dry

Drier than normal conditions for the second year in a row have pushed a handful of property owners in Nevada County to seek help for well problems early this season.

Like area reservoirs, some area wells are showing lower-than-normal water levels, said area hydrologists and owners of well drilling companies. Area ranchers are struggling with losses to pasture left dry by the drought, and local water officials are considering buying water from PG&E to maintain reserves.

This week, two historically healthy wells on Quaker Hill Road and Greenhorn Road were showing signs of trouble.



“Both of them had very low water,” said Randy Harris, owner of Blubilt, a water treatment company that builds and maintains well systems. “I’m seeing an early trend.”

While low-performing wells are not unheard-of, calls usually don’t begin until July or August, said Greg Peters, owner of Peters’ Well Drilling. He’s already been contacted by several people with “problem wells.”




He predicts the number to increase by 2 percent this year.

“When you get two years in a row of drier than normal, you’re going to have a problem,” Peters said.

Several people who struggled to get through last year already are seeking help.

“They’re marginally producing wells anyway. They’ve come to a point they just can’t make it,” Peters said.

G.I. showers

Groundwater accounts for up to 40 percent of the state’s water supply, according to the state Water Resources Control Board. But the quality of domestic well water in California is largely unknown.

Next week, the U.S. Geological Survey will present information gathered from a study of ground water in Martis Basin. Another study will begin this summer throughout the Sierra Nevada, including the foothills in Nevada County.

Preliminary studies have shown many wells in the Sierra Nevada tap old groundwater from aquifers hundreds to thousands of years old. These water sources tend to have naturally occurring arsenic and radon, according to the USGS.

Jane Anderson, who lives near Jones Bar, plans to lower the pump in her well several hundred feet as a precaution after her well went dry for five days last summer.

She lost trees during the dry spell including apple, olive, dogwood and pine.

She remembers a drought during the 1980’s that left no extra water to wash cars. Neighbors used recycled gray water for irrigating gardens and took “G.I.-style” showers.

“It’s going to come to that before the summer ends,” Anderson said.

The average well in Nevada County is 375 feet to 400 feet deep, compared to 80 to 150 feet several years ago, Peters said.

Ridgetop properties with views tend to require deeper, more expensive wells. But most people find water, Peters said.

Nevada County doesn’t have water tables. Instead, water is found in fissures in fractured rock, Peters explained. Annual rainfall is the largest factor determining water supply, Peters said.

Conservation is key in the coming months, echoed Peters and Harris. Using large storage tanks help stretch water reserves. In 24 hours, a well that produces one gallon per minute can produce 1,440 gallons of water.

Some people may have to rethink the way they use water, making the switch from overhead sprinklers to a drip system in their gardens. Harris suggests taking an even more drastic measure.

“Stop planting plants. They take up so much water. Lawns and plants are the killer,” Harris said.


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