Drilling discord (October 3, 2015)

As Ranchos builds new well, Town Council questions necessity

APPLE VALLEY — Soundproof curtains 20 feet high diminish the cacophony of a Best Drilling and Pump Company crew drilling a new well on Low Ranch Road, but the noise is music to the ears of Apple Valley Ranchos officials standing nearby in hard hats watching the crew in action.

Ranchos officials say the replacement well near Apple Valley Road just north of Bear Valley Road will increase efficiency and water supply reliability while ensuring the company has the capacity to accommodate Apple Valley’s future growth — but some members of the town government don’t appear to share the enthusiasm.

While Ranchos awaits completion of its $2.2 million well project, dubbed Well 35, the mere fact that construction is underway was a point of contention for the Town Council at the Sept. 22 meeting, during which questions regarding the well were posed to Ranchos Finance Manager Eric Larsen.

The town and Ranchos are at odds over Apple Valley’s possible acquisition of the private water system, which Ranchos says is not for sale. The matter may eventually be settled by an eminent domain case in court. Mayor Pro Tem Barb Stanton told the Daily Press on Friday she believes Ranchos’ motivation for the well project is to increase the value of the water system should Apple Valley attempt to buy it.

Councilman Art Bishop raised other concerns about the project after Larsen’s public comment at the most recent Council meeting; he was curious as to why Ranchos chose to build a new well amid California’s ongoing drought.

Why are we building a new well when we have to cut back (water usage) not only 30 percent now but — based on your own figures — even more this coming winter? Bishop asked Larsen.

Ranchos’ water usage allotment threshold, which is currently fixed at 32 units per billing cycle, will drop to 18 units per cycle in November.

Bishop also took issue with the chosen location of Well 35, which is east of Apple Valley Road near Sitting Bull Road in an undeveloped section of the town.

I guess that’s a good location for a new well, Bishop said. It sure seems to be right there where I’d rather see a bunch of nice homes and landscaping, but I’m sure you’re going to build a pretty block wall. I pray it doesn’t get graffitied.

In response, Larsen explained that the new well will not be an addition to the 20 other wells operating within the community, but a replacement for four aging wells located on the outer reaches of Ranchos’ service area.

The California Public Utilities Commission would not approve the project as a new well, according to Ranchos Production Supervisor Jeff Kinnard. The CPUC determined Ranchos did not need more production due to water conservation efforts, slow growth in the area and the drought.

Once we explained we could pump water more efficiently by replacing these aging wells with a new one, (the project) was approved, Kinnard said.

Ranchos Control and Instrumentation Tech Mark Beppu explained the situation with the older wells during a tour of the Well 35 construction site.

Two wells gave up the ghost, Beppu told the Daily Press, meaning they ceased to function. The other two are inefficient.

One problem with the older wells is they’re situated farther from the regional groundwater basin all of Ranchos’ wells are tapped into to provide water to more than 62,000 customers in Apple Valley.

The other problem is — quite simply — the wells are old, Ranchos officials explained.

Kinnard said the median life of a standard well is 38 years. The four wells are between 40 and 50 years old, according to Larsen.

The location of Well 35, which appeared to agitate Bishop during the meeting, is a matter of strategy, Larsen said.

A number of studies are done to help us choose the best location, Ranchos Engineer Tech 3 Melissa Kadel told the Daily Press.

Larsen further explained Kadel’s comment during the Town Council meeting.

It makes much more sense to have wells down near the river where the water level is much more consistent, Larsen said.

And with regard to Bishop’s comment as to the necessity of a well during a period of reduced water consumption, Larsen noted that the current situation will not be a permanent one.

Eventually (Apple Valley) will begin growing again, Larsen said. As a water provider it takes time and a lot of planning in order to make sure we have the capacity in order to serve potential growth in the future. I need to make sure that those (older wells) get replaced because the drought’s not going to last forever. The consumption levels will not be at these levels forever.

How Well 35 — currently being funded by Ranchos investors and owners — will be paid off was also addressed, and Bishop requested answers as to the possible future impact on ratepayers, some of whom are incurring the drought surcharge Ranchos implemented after Governor Jerry Brown issued his statewide water reduction mandate in April.

This is not something that ends up on someone’s bill tomorrow, Larsen said. It is recovered through rates over the life of the well.

Despite Larsen’s answers, both Bishop and Councilman Curt Emick remained flummoxed that Ranchos would choose to begin a well project now.

I just find it odd now, you know, out of all times, Emick said. I think (Bishop) is kind of scratching his head too trying to figure out why.


Crews have been at work on Ranchos’ replacement well 24 hours a day for three weeks. Work is done around the clock to maintain hole stability throughout the completion of the well, according to Best.

Ranchos expects all drilling and pump-related work to be completed in November. Additional work will include construction of a block pump house to contain the well and disinfection equipment, an emergency generator housing, piping to connect the well to Ranchos’ water main on Apple Valley Road and a block wall around the perimeter of the parcel.

The additional work on Well 35 will be consistent with previous well projects, which Kadel said includes efforts to make the wells inconspicuous.

We try to make every well blend in with the neighborhood, Kadel said.

Larsen said during the meeting that Ranchos has many wells that are housed in what appear to be residential homes.

(We have) very few that are actually exposed to the outside, Larsen said. The only ones that are (exposed) are generally waiting on development to occur.

The entire Well 35 project is slated for completion in mid-2016, Ranchos officials said.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press