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Wasco's aging water wells need upgrade; Problem was years in the making

Meanwhile, two councilmembers announce reelection bids, Espitia won't run again

 

August 6, 2020 | View PDF

Alex Garcia

The city has been going in "the wrong direction" for the last 13 years in fixing its crumbling water infrastructure, and it will have to spend millions – likely $30 million plus -- to fix it, City Manager Daniel Ortiz-Hernandez told the City Council Tuesday night.

A study more than a decade ago made it clear the city needed to move to replace its aging water wells, and add storage for millions of gallons in order to protect the system from spikes in usage. This was merely to keep up with current and expected demand.

But the reverse actually happened. Wells had to be taken out of service, reducing capacity as city growth required more water. Average pressure

declined, system statistics analyzed by Hernandez-Ortiz showed, and peaks took the system above capacity in the best-functioning wells, and showed

the weaknesses in several that were aging out. The drought of the mid-2010s "gave the city a reprieve," Ortiz-Hernandez explained later, but that is benefit is over. He presented a four-year plan to make the needed improvements, but said it may be necessary to compress that schedule.

Finding the money will be a problem. Although Water Department is a separate entity and has its own capital funds, the city's ability

to take on a multiyear project with a first year price tag of close to $4 million is not realistic, Herandez-Ortiz said.

Finding help to pay is the next step. He said the state and federal sources could provide grants, but this avenue may take more than a year to secure.

The city will have to pick up the tab until it gets assistance – which means likely substantial increases for ratepayers.

The council also discussed other issues Tuesday night.In response to a question by Wasco resident Orquidea Ocampo, the City Council cleared up any confusion as to whether voting for council members would be by district instead of at-large seats.

The council held public hearings in 2017 on the composition of the districts. The council then voted on one of three maps divided into designated districts. The November 2018 election was then district based.

"Several municipalities filed lawsuits to try and stop the district-based elections," Council member Alex Garcia said. "However, none of them have won. Some have lost over $1 million in their lawsuit, adding up the lawyers' fees, lawsuit charges and court costs."

City Manager Daniel Ortiz-Hernandez said Wasco wanted to avoid a lawsuit, so it held two public hearings on the issue of changing from at-large to district-based elections. "We didn't want to pay any unnecessary lawyer's fees," he told the council.

In the election this November, there are three open council seats and only two of them have incumbents running for re-election. Danny Espitia, who represents District 2, is not running, while Mayor Tilo Cortez, who represents District 4, and Alex Garcia, who represents District 5, are both seeking re-election.

Garcia said, "I am proud of a successful first-term as Wasco council member," Garcia said. "Despite some oversights and missteps, I have always put Wasco first." Garcia said his priority at City Hall has always been to improve accessibility, transparency and promote the Wasco brand beyond our city limits.

Tilo Cortez

"Elevating rural community voices, like Wasco's, on a higher level has been one of my many accomplishments," he said. "I hope to continue advocating for our fair share of resources in cooperation with our county, state and federal partners."

In other business, the City Council unanimously approved the employment agreement of Isarel Perez Hernandez as the finance director for an annual salary of $104,573.

"Hernandez has worked for the city for several years and has moved up quickly," Ortiz-Hernandez said. "He is an asset to the city."

In presenting his report, Kern County Sheriff's Sergeant Peter Martinez said that the sheriff's office is continuing to ask residents to register their cameras with the department because they help solve crime.

 

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