MABTON — The story of this small town’s water issues began soon after its founding in the early 1900s – the town history records various explosions causing property damages due to natural gases in the town wells along with personal injuries.
In the book “It Happened in Mabton,” there is a short note about a man who lit a cigar while enjoying a bath at one of the town’s many hotels, only to be blown out of the tub and seriously injured. The match ignited the methane gas causing the explosion, so the story goes.
The unresolved folklore of the natural gas saga once again created imaginative headlines in 1977. The top of the 53-year-old water reservoir blew off, landing like a flying saucer in front of an apartment building across Pine Street, recalls longtime native and former public works employee Arturo “Tootie” De La Fuentes.
For almost a century, the community has faced water challenges of not only the methane gas flowing through their household taps, but issues with nitrates, electrical problems, drops in aquifer levels and sand fouling up the well pumps.
Now in an effort to create and maintain a reliable water supply, town leaders have plans to add its seventh well to the system, thanks to recently receiving approval for nearly $1 million in loans and grants to improve the aging water system infrastructure.
The new well is being funded with a United States Department of Agriculture $677,000 loan and a $296,195 grant, Mabton Mayor Laura Vazquez explained.
The city currently pumps from wells 5 and 6, to deliver water to its 8,000-gallon reservoir located in Mabton City Park in south Mabton. The new well will augment water capacity, benefiting the town’s 2,286 residents.
The Mayor said work on the new well is expected to begin within the next three to four months.
“I’m so excited to be able to tell our community we will have increased water availability citywide once the well is done,” Vazquez announced.
Mabton native and a longtime council member, Vera Zavala has long worked on solving the town’s water problems. She, too, is optimistic about the drilling of Well No. 7.
“I’m happy the town has got the money for the well,” Zavala affirmed.
While the wells still occasionally gives off a gassy, rotten egg smell when the waterlines are flushed, she acknowledged, “we have a lot of monitors on the reservoirs to keep an eye on the gas build-up to prevent untimely incidents,” Zavala declared.
De La Fuentes, also a city council member, looks forward to seeing a new well. Like many in Mabton, he hopes there won’t be more issued like those which have plagued the system in the past.
“Just want to see clean and water and plenty of it,” he asserted.
Former challenges with sand in city pumping systems and pump electrical shortages, as well as summers when the city had to ration water, Vazquez said those issues have been resolved.
City public works lead man Gordon Harris agreed, adding having the new well will also give the community more backup water in case of fire emergencies.
Recently the city purchased additional water rights to allow for future expansion. The public water supply now supplies water to 550 business and residential hook-ups. “The new well will allow the town to serve upwards of 632 metered connections,” Vazquez noted.
“I’ll be relieved that we will be able to wash our clothes and water the lawn at the same time,” said Zavala.
“And I won’t miss the rotten egg smell for sure,” she laughed.