Water truck business soars in drought-ridden California

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Garrett McInnis’ 2015 Peterbilt 389 water truck has seen more action as a result of the historic drought in California.Garrett McInnis’ 2015 Peterbilt 389 water truck has seen more action as a result of the historic drought in California.

There are lot more water truck businesses in Fresno, Ca., thanks to a historic drought.

Neeley Keeney, owner of NRK Water Truck Rental, says throughout this year, the central California area where he works has gone from two to seven potable water truck companies.

“And more are going to be doing it,” says Keeney, who’s been in the water business since 1990. A severe shortage of rain and snow has diminished water supplies throughout the state. Residents dependent on well water have been hardest hit. With groundwater levels dropping to historic lows, their wells have run dry, leaving them to turn to large water storage tanks and water suppliers like Keeney.

“It’s super great right now,” Keeney says of the business. “We’re in this time of year where we’re getting rain and I’m busy, and everyone I know who has water trucks is busy.”

Keeney says the drought is the worst he’s seen in the 38 years that he’s lived in the Golden State. With business booming, he bought new water trucks. He has two T300 Kenworths and two Ford F650s. The F650s are equipped with gas-powered V10s, while the Kenworths are diesels. The trucks are equipped with 2,500 and 4,000-gallon tanks.

Though his business is based in Sanger, Keeney covers a three-county area. The cost to fill up his tanker trucks with water varies from $150 to $300. It all depends on the city that he’s in at the time.

Though rainfall amounts have picked up considerably this time of year compared to last, ground water surveyor Jay Shaw says it will probably take four to five years for water levels to rise back to normal levels. In the meantime, that means drilling deeper wells which most residents cannot afford.

“We just did some work for a farmer. He finished his well. He asked for a 1,000 gallons a minute, but he had to go almost a 1,000 feet deep and that cost him $650,000, and that’s about a medium depth well in the central valley,” explains Shaw, co-owner of National Groundwater Surveyors in nearby Clovis.

Agricultural industries in central California demand a lot of water, Shaw says, so much that the aquifer here has dropped roughly 200 feet.

“The water situation in California is really, really tight and there’s no quick fix for it either,” says Shaw.

About 200 miles north in Nevada City, H20 to Go owner Garrett McInnis acknowledges that while the drought has given him more business, he lives in an area that does not have the same water demands as central California to the south.

He not only services residents whose wells have run dry, but also construction and pool contractors. With the wet season underway in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, McInnis explains that he’s down to using one truck for water deliveries.

“It’s slowing up a little bit. There’s some well recovery going on which is good,” McInnis says. “We’re pretty much a seasonal operation out here, even in the drought years.”

McInnis’ fleet consists of a 2013 Peterbilt 382, a 2015 Peterbilt 389 and “an older International.” All of the trucks are equipped with 4,000-gallon tanks.

Though McInnis says water is like gold in California, he cautions anyone who wants to enter the water truck business, especially in his market where business has slowed during the winter.

“If somebody were to buy a piece of equipment—as soon as you’re not working, you’re not paying for it,” he says. “That’s what happens to a lot of folks.”