MODESTO -- The prospect of more reliable tap water is good news for Del Rio's 1,270 residents, but some rural neighbors are less than thrilled and have sought legal advice.
Rather than erecting a 20-foot-tall, 250,000-gallon storage tank and 22-foot pump building in the exclusive country club community north of Modesto, the water system's owners propose the improvements be sited a half-mile away.
Farmers and their families fear a new well in the $5 million project could suck at an underground aquifer serving the private wells on which they rely for irrigation and ranchette taps.
The fact that the farmers have no say in the matter is a further irritant. That's because the water system owner is the city of Modesto, with council members that are not elected by people living outside the city limit.
Nor can the farmers turn to those they elect on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors for help, because state law doesn't prevent a municipal utility from drilling wells outside its jurisdiction.
"If it's only going to serve people of that area, why in the heck not site it over there?" said Gary Darpinian, whose family farms land next to the city's chosen site at 718 Ladd Road.
The City Council bought the 4-acre lot in March, paying $275,000. On Tuesday, they'll consider hiring a consultant to finish designs.
Another neighboring farmer, Dick Michelotti, referred The Bee to a Sacramento attorney representing opponents, but the attorney could not be reached.
Modesto leaders in 2005 agreed to improve Del Rio's water works to settle a lawsuit brought by the community's homeowners association. Although it's not connected to the city's main water system, Del Rio was part of the former Del Este system acquired by the city in 1995 along with others serving some outlying areas, including Salida.
City Hall intends to augment Del Rio's three wells with two more; staff is negotiating to buy a lot at McHenry Avenue and Stewart Road, plus the proposed well on Ladd.
Well to go deeper
The Ladd well could go down as far as 600 feet; it is hoped that it will draw from a source deeper than the underground spring serving neighbors. Their wells typically are about 100 feet, said Rob Christensen, a senior civil engineer with the city's utility planning unit.
The well could pump up to 1,000 gallons per minute, or 175 million gallons a year, a report says. A booster pump in the 22-foot building would send water from the tank through a pipe running 2,500 feet to connect with Del Rio's system.
The project would be screened by trees and surrounded by an 8-foot fence, plans say.
The extra water would keep pressure constant important for fire protection in case one of the other wells goes down, Christensen said.
"It's to correct existing deficiencies, not to provide for additional growth," he said.
Christensen said the city tried to buy property closer to and within Del Rio, but failed. "There just weren't a whole lot of options," he said.
Darpinian said, "The process has not been satisfying to those in the neighborhood. The city has behaved like, 'We can do whatever we want,' while those in the neighborhood are completely disenfranchised. We cannot vote for the City Council or mayor and we're not in the Del Rio Community Plan area."
Wayne Zipser, executive manager of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, said he looked into the issue and was surprised that a city drilling a remote well doesn't have to apply to rezone agricultural land.
"You wonder how the city has power to do that," he said, but his legal advisers confirmed that it does.
The Modesto City Council is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.