Merced to test site for new well

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 2, 2014 

Merced is expanding, and so is its need for new groundwater wells , according to city officials.

Merced City Council will decide Monday whether to award a $470,589 contract to Woodland-based Luhdorff & Scalmanini Consulting Engineersto evaluate the site that would be Well 20, test it, prepare a report and give an opinion on cost.

City staff scored the engineering firm highest among its competitors bidding on the contract.

Merced’s general plan calls for one well for every square mile. The newest proposed site, at the corner of Mission Avenue and Tyler Road, would be the southernmost well in town. The well could benefit growth along Mission Avenue, according to city records.

“It’s part of a growing city,” said Ken Elwin, the city engineer.

Officials said a nearby well located close to the Merced County Fairgrounds, Well 6, was recently taken offline. Elwin said the proposed well should help to maintain water pressure and service if another was to be shut down for maintenance.

Elwin said the firm chosen by the council will test the quality and quantity of water coming from the site. All of the wells’ get periodic tests for quality, and generally pump about 3,000 gallons per minute.

The newest well would be the city’s 23rd. The last new well was built about two years ago, and the next previous was about two years before that, according to Michael Wegley, Merced Public Works director of water resources.

“Some of the other wells are getting older and we’re not running them as much,” Wegley said.

The city’s wells should not be a concern for those worried about the sinking surface land in Merced County, Wegley said.

The sinking soil – called subsidence – could damage dams, roads, railroads, pipes and bridges. A U.S. Geological Survey in November showed that the subsidence was due to so much water being pumped out of the ground. The area near El Nido has been dropping at a rate of a foot per year, while the land closer to Merced is falling at about one-half inch per year. Researchers warned that the area that is sinking is spreading.

Wegley said city wells reach below 300 feet to access the layer of water, called an “aquifer,” while rural residential and agricultural wells are 60 to 100 feet deep.

“There’s always concerns that we’re going to affect shallower wells, but we’re really in a separate aquifer,” he said.

The deeper water is also of a higher quality, Wegley said.

The city, Merced Irrigation District and the county are working on a groundwater plan for the region. Wegley said the county’s sinking surface is a topic in the plan.

Assuming the test results for the proposed well are acceptable to the city, a new well and pump station would need to be constructed at the site. The council would pick a construction firm for the well and pump station at a later date.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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