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CORCORAN – First it was Avenal on the verge of going dry. Now Corcoran leaders have decided they’ll be in the same situation if they don’t drill a big new well expected to cost $2.5 million.

The Corcoran City Council agreed Monday night to pay Fresno-based Zim Industries Inc. $731,410 to drill a 1,766-feet-deep water well. The rest of the complete package needed to get the water flowing into Corcoran homes and the state prison facilities south of town – a pump, additional engineering work, extra pipes and more – will cost another $1.8 million, officials estimate.

The council pulled the trigger to get on Zim’s waiting list as fast as possible. The earliest the driller could start is April or May 2015, with the whole project delivering water by June. The council declared an emergency to justify the initial $731,410, which bypassed the lengthy bidding process normally required for public projects.

Why the rush? Some or all of Corcoran’s existing wells could go belly up by next summer, leaving residents high and dry unless something is done quickly.

“We really need it … or we may be short,” said Councilman Mark Cartwright.

In Avenal, the water supply comes from Northern California dams managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and pumped through the California Aqueduct. In Corcoran, there’s nothing but water sucked out of the ground.

It’s not just the city’s wells drawing the aquifer down. The town is surrounded by large farms, including the granddaddy of them all – J.G. Boswell Co., growing multiple crops on tens of thousands of acres in the old Tulare Lake bottom.

Though Boswell officials keep a tight lid on the company’s operations, it’s no secret that many if not most Kings County farmers are compensating for the lack of surface water this year by pumping it out of the ground through their own private wells.

In a wet year, irrigation water flowing down from the Sierra percolates down and raises the water table. Now, with little or no runoff coming from the bone-dry mountains, the depth drillers have to go to hit water is getting lower and lower.

“It may not rain next year,” Kroeker said. “This is a little deeper straw.”

Maybe more than a little.

Corcoran’s nine existing wells are 400-1,000 feet deep. They are already having issues. Four wells that produce some the highest-quality water are producing fewer gallons per minute. Some of the deeper wells are having mysterious problems with coliform bacteria.

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Kroeker told the council he’s hoping the new well will produce as much as 3,500 gallons per minute – not enough to satisfy the town’s current water use if all the other wells go dry, but enough to see residents and businesses through if some of the deeper existing wells stay online to help out.

Kroeker admitted that anything is possible if the drought extends deep into next year, including an outside chance that the town ends up with only one working well. That would mean tougher water conservation measure for Corcoran, which so far hasn’t experienced the fines and mandatory watering days Hanford, Lemoore and Avenal have adopted.

Kroeker also discussed the possibility that the new well could produce lower quality water. That would mean that Corcoran’s water treatment plant would have to be upgraded to filter out the unwanted elements.

Right after authorizing the new well, the council on Monday approved a $50,000 engineering study to look into ways to upgrade the plant.

The money for the well and the study is coming out of the city’s multi-million water fund, which has been built up in part by rate increases approved when the treatment plant was constructed several years ago.

“We have all heard about other communities [that] are having major problems these days concerning water shortages,” Kroeker wrote in a staff report. “The city of Corcoran is extremely fortunate that through wise decisions made by the [City] Councils over the years, it now has the resources available, the land available and the ability to [construct] new wells for our community.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@hanfordsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @SethN_HS.

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