HANFORD – Armona and Hanford officials are feeling like they dodged a bullet after fears that the state would require the two cities' water systems to merge proved to be unfounded.
"I'm in a celebratory mood today," said Armona Community Services District board member Jim Maciel in an interview on Wednesday. "It would have messed up everything."
When two State Water Resources Control Board officials came to the Armona Community Services District meeting Tuesday night to talk about Armona's water quality, Maciel feared they would require Armona to abandon its water system and connect to Hanford's.
Instead, local officials got reassurance that the state had no intention of doing so.
The reason? Armona is in the middle of building a nearly $11 million new well and water treatment plant project.
Tricia Wathen, a senior sanitary engineer at the state water board, said in an interview that Armona will be allowed to finish the project and keep operating its own water system.
"We're not looking at [consolidation] as an option," Wathen said. "Armona is moving forward with treatment. At this point, [consolidation] is not on the table."
Local officials expressed relief, both in Armona and Hanford, at not having to tie the two cities' water systems together.
"[Armona] is currently under construction on a very expensive, multi-million dollar project," said Lou Camara, Hanford public works director. "That needs to play out."
Armona's water supply meets federal arsenic standards, but is out of compliance on color issues and is under a state order to reduce a class of chemicals called trihalomethanes. The compounds are a byproduct of chlorination.
Maciel said that if the consolidation had gone forward, it would have dealt a devastating blow to the revenue stream the district gets from Armona residents' water bills.
Maciel said the revenue is also used to cover insurance costs and general overhead costs at the district's office.
"We would be negatively affected by that loss of revenue," he said.
The district relied on that revenue stream to take out a $4.2 million loan to help build the combined new well/water treatment facility/water storage tank currently under construction on 14th Avenue next to the former Kings Drive-In Theatre.
"We would still have to make that loan payment," Maciel said.
The goal of the combined project is to improve color issues and overall water quality.
Maciel said he feared the district would be sued by the contractor if the project was abandoned mid-construction.
Camara said that consolidation wouldn't be good for Hanford either.
"The city doesn't have excess [water] capacity," he said. "It has its own unique needs."
Hanford has connected its water system to some mobile home parks and county enclaves within the city's sphere of influence, but Camara said that adding Armona would be different.
"We're willing to help our neighbors within our service boundaries, but this is way outside our boundary," he said.
With more than a dozen wells to draw from, Hanford has better quality water than the two wells that feed into Armona's system.
The project on 14th Avenue will add a third well to Armona's water supply.
Wathen said the water board does have the legal authority under SB 88 to require a consolidation if it's considered necessary to maintain water quality.
SB 88 became state law in 2015.
Wathen said it remains to be seen what kind of water quality will emerge from Armona's new well project once it and the treatment facility attached to it become operational.
"They believe that that project will fix their water quality issues," she said. "They’re moving forward, so we’ve got to let that be completed.”
Maciel said the district got a boost at Tuesday's meeting when state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, spoke in support of local officials.
"Armona has the community's water system under control and doesn't need state intervention," Vidak said in a written statement. "This is a matter of local control."
Vidak voted against SB 88.