Two property owners with wells that have tested positive for contaminants are upset they cannot connect to a new grant-funded water main being installed on Jacksonville Road outside Jamestown unless they pay substantially more than most of their neighbors.
Joan and Andy Nelson have lived on Thistledown Road since the 1980s. Tuolumne County health officials and test results from a state lab say arsenic and nitrates are in their well, and they should not use well water for drinking, cooking or brushing their teeth.
Barbara Applebee has lived near the end of Thistledown since the early 1970s. Lab results show she has levels of nitrates, aluminum, copper and zinc in her well that exceed state reporting limits. She has also been advised to use bottled water for drinking, including cooking and brushing teeth.
They said they were led to believe they could tap into the new water line for about $2,000, but now Tuolumne Utilities District officials say there is not enough money to extend the pipe to their properties. They would have to pay a contractor about $100,000 to do so, they said.
Tom Haglund, TUD general manager, denied that any property owner had been promised anything.
“It was clearly communicated that funding was not available to extend a water main down Thistledown Road, Egan Road, Stamp Mill Loop, portions of Bell Mooney Road, and portions of Dutch Mine Road,” Haglund said. “All of these segments of pipeline were requested by property owners living in those areas.”
The residents also said they feel TUD and Tuolumne County used the public health angle to secure more than $1.6 million in grants.
“They are not piping water down to us,” Joan Nelson said. “Why? The county and TUD are using government funds to build this.”
Applebee said, “They’ve brought to light a desperate situation. Now they say we have to bring the water line to our property at our own expense.”
When the Nelsons bought their place on Thistledown in 1983, they had one well, and they paid a contractor to drill another later in the 1980s. They stopped using the first well about five years ago.
The Nelsons said they agreed to have testing on the single well they still use when county health and TUD officials shared concerns about failing wells and possibly contaminated wells at a meeting in Jamestown in November 2015.
“They told people there were health concerns about drinking the water out here,” Andy Nelson said. “Some wells had failed, and they were delivering water to some people. They indicated they would like to test more wells, and we volunteered.”
There was another meeting in Jamestown in February 2016.
“They told us we would get water,” Joan Nelson said.
“They said the main line would go out this way on Jacksonville,” Andy Nelson said. “I asked them specifically about Thistledown Road. They said they could put in a line but no fire hydrant. This was for property owners adjacent to Thistledown.”
Last summer, Andy Nelson said, TUD staff informed him and his wife they had secured grant funding, but it was not going to be enough to pay for a water line from Jacksonville Road to Thistledown.
The Nelsons said four property owners on Thistledown initially wanted to connect, but one of the four decided to connect to a relative’s home.
“My question is, if the pipeline is going to cost $1.2 million and TUD got $1.6 million, why don’t they have enough money to run that pipeline down here?” Andy Nelson said. “Their excuse to me on the phone was, ‘We don’t have the money, and the grant was for failing wells.’ Our well produces water. We just can’t drink it.”
Joan Nelson said she and her husband are frustrated because people close by will get water from the line.
“Our water is not potable at all. If they have the money, they should include us and connect us, too.”
Applebee said she’s concerned about running out of water and about the test results she received in May 2016.
“There are six wells right here, near Seco and Algerine, within a half-mile, and more in Stent that have gone dry,” Applebee said. “Now I drink distilled water, for the past year. When I’m in a hurry I drink what comes out of the tap and it tastes OK. I have a filter on the faucet, put in several years ago.”
She raised five kids on well water, and none have health issues that she knows of.
“None of them glow in the dark,” Applebee said.
Both the Nelsons and Applebee say they were parties to a legal action against Sonora Mining Corporation in the 1980s, in which they alleged the Canadian company’s Jamestown gold mine on Highway 108 could cause water issues.
The mining company tested wells on the Nelson and Applebee properties for several years in the 1980s. The Jamestown mine shut down in 1994.
“We had our well put in back in 1971,” Applebee said. “It was tested and safe.”
Haglund said county staff began reaching out to property owners in the area in late 2015 to gauge interest and determine locations of dry and contaminated wells and to better define what needed to be done.
A “discovery process” was used to seek funding through the state, but there was no guarantee funding would be secured to complete the entire scope of the project, Haglund said.
Due to limited state funding, TUD has considered only properties qualified by the county before TUD executed a grant agreement defining the project area with the California Department of Water Resources and the State Water Board.
Haglund also noted that TUD and county health staff held public meetings beginning in late 2015, and one of the meetings focused specifically on health issues related to nitrates and arsenic.
The last public meeting was held in September 2016, Haglund said. That was the meeting, he said, that some residents were told the line would not be extended to their properties.
‘No promises made’
The pipeline alignment selected by TUD and county staff maximizes the number of properties that can connect and stay within funding limits, Haglund said.
Property owners have been required to give TUD minimum deposits of $1,500, which includes a $500 refundable “good faith deposit” intended to ensure each property owner connects to the new public water main. The refundable $500 is also intended to assure people “we don’t construct a ‘pipeline to nowhere,’ ” Haglund said.
The county has identified 35 properties along the pipeline route that have dry or contaminated wells, Haglund said. Of those 35 properties, 34 owners have submitted deposits.
Other property owners who have frontage along the pipeline route, but did not have a dry or contaminated well as of Sept. 16, 2016, can connect to TUD at their own cost.
Costs vary, and they include a capacity fee of about $7,200, Haglund said. Other properties, including those on Thistledown and other roads in the area, need to request a variance from TUD to build private water service lines from the street to their homes.
If more than one property owner in the same area is requesting a variance, then TUD typically requires a public water main of 6 to 8 inches diameter be extended.
“Such extensions are at the the expense of the properties benefitting from the extension,” Haglund said. “In the case of Thistledown Road, there is more than one property that could connect, and the most prudent approach would be to require the public water main be extended.”
The distance to Thistledown from the mainline extension is about 1,000 feet, nearly a quarter-mile, Haglund said. That distance requires a mainline extension.
Rain may delay work
Water is not being denied to those individuals, Haglund said, but they will be responsible for that cost.
In addition to the 34 properties that are connecting under the grant, owners of an additional 21 properties have provided deposits to have water service lines and meter boxes built on their properties, even though they do not have qualifying water quantity or water quality issues. For those individuals, deposits ranged from $3,000 to $5,200.
Mozingo Construction of Oakdale is contracted to do the work on the water main extension, which began in November. This week workers were busy on a section of Jacksonville Road.
“Jacksonville Road will remain open to those who live, work or have business in the area,” Jennifer Batt, a TUD associate engineer, said Thursday. “The forecast for next week shows some more rain, so there will likely not be any construction until the weather is better.”
The Quartz-Stent water main extension project is expected to be complete by the end of April.