More than the usual number of Yakima Valley residential wells are experiencing low water pressure or even running dry this summer.
Its almost a perfect storm of factors that work against people with shallow wells during this drought, said Avery Richardson, regional well construction coordinator for the state Department of Ecology. We are being contacted more this year than in a non-drought year about people running out of water.
No one compiles numbers, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence based on information from state officials and drillers that this year is particularly bad for shallow wells.
Not all well problems are drought-related. But shallow wells are more vulnerable because they tap water sources that are recharged faster by rain and snow than deeper aquifers.
Making matters worse for shallow wells, people are pumping more than usual this summer to compensate for heat, lack of rain and, in some cases, reduced irrigation water.
During a normal year, irrigation water that isnt soaked up by crops tends to recharge the shallow groundwater. Thats not happening this year because farmers have less water to irrigate with, Richardson said.
However, wells go dry in the Yakima Valley every year, said Gary Lydin, co-owner of Apple Valley Well Drilling.
Lydin said his business is having a particularly busy summer. Hes booked four or five weeks out, but thinks it is unfair to give the drought all the blame.
I dont see it really pertaining to this years drought; its just more people taking water out of the ground than is refilling, Lydin said. The water table is just dropping in places. Its been dropping for years.
It all depends on what aquifer a well taps into. Lydin said hes seen 60-foot deep wells and 300-foot deep wells go dry; it all depends on where the well is in relation to the aquifer and neighboring wells. In short, its complicated under there.
But if youve got the short straw, you might end up with problems, Lydin said.
Richardson agreed that there are places in the Yakima Valley experiencing long-term decline that has nothing to do with this drought.
But a year like this just accelerates those trends, he said. Theres a lot more pressure on groundwater than there normally is.
Yakima County residents have also been calling Mark Akland, with Akland Pump and Irrigation Co., to see if he can lower the pumps in their existing wells to reach more water.
Water levels are suffering this year, Akland said. Weve been very busy lowering pumps.
He said that some areas have been hit particularly hard, but he declined to identify those areas, out of respect for his clients and their neighbors who may be trying to sell homes or worried about potential impact to property values.
But if they cant lower the pumps enough, then homeowners have to call the well drillers.
Lydin says he usually prefers to drill a new well because trying to deepen an existing well can damage the wells casing and cause more problems than its worth. Drilling a new well costs from $5,000 to $10,000, plus more for the pump work, he said.
Most people arent prepared for a bill that big, Lydin said. But you have to have water, no way around it.
The states emergency drought relief funds dont offer assistance to homeowners whose wells have gone dry. Basically, your private well is your responsibility, said Ted Silvestri with the Yakima Health Department.
No permit is required for private domestic wells, but drillers do have to notify Richardson at the Department of Ecology of their intent to drill. In emergency situations such as when someones well has gone dry, Richardson can waive the 72-hour waiting period normally applied to well drillers. He said hes seeing more requests for that this summer.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture does have a program that could help low-income, rural homeowners replace their wells with low interest loans or grants for seniors, but the program has lots of restrictions.
Eligible homeowners have to agree to address all the health and safety risks in their home, such as a leaky roof, out-of-date wiring and septic maintenance, in order to qualify, said Benacio Garcia, the program administrator. But those who meet the conditions can get a loan for up to $20,000 at 1 percent interest to make repairs to wells and other issues.
Its a great program when it works, Garcia said. But it does no good to find out there are so many issues and we only address some of them and then something goes wrong. We encourage people to contact us before their homes get worse.
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