Valley State Prison waterworks fixes underway

The lawns at Valley State Prison are brown, and a problem with their main water source is to blame.

“Over the years of wear and tear, our water wells needed to be upgraded and retrofitted,” said Greg Bergersen, public information officer for Valley State Prison in Chowchilla.

Built in 1995 as a women’s facility, the prison was converted to a men’s facility in 2012. It’s now a level two, low-to-medium security prison focused on inmates with sensitive needs. The population is at more than 3,000.

Between Valley State Prison and the Central California Women’s Facility, which is located across the street, the prisons have five water wells. In July, cavitation problems were detected and ways to conserve water during the much-needed repairs became priority.

“The warden enacted emergency water conservation methods,” Bergersen said. “We quit irrigating the facility lawn areas and recreation areas to save water.”

Officials even sent out teams of people within the prison to find any possible leaks and asked inmates to take showers and use water only as needed in order to help preserve further.

“We tightened all that up so we can save all the water we could,” he said.

Today the prisons are only using about 60percent of the wells’ capacity, Bergersen said, adding that the problem is not affecting the population.

The prison is working with an area contractor to refurbish the wells.

“We’re hoping to get it operational within the next 10 days and generate what we were in the past,” he said – about 600 gallons of water per minute.

As for the grass, officials will soon be reseeding to restore the lawn. It will take about 2,300 pounds of seed, he said.

“The conservation methods have worked at the loss of our lush green. ... We were a pretty green-looking place,” Bergersen said. “We’re trying to keep what we can alive during this little hiccup.”

The next step is for water samples to be sent to the county for testing.

“We’ll bring the prison back up to the standards we’ve set for years,” he said.

Refurbishing the two wells will cost about $350,000.

“These are 20-year-old wells. It’s a much-needed repair,” Bergersen said. “But they will be better and more efficient.”