For the past year, Stanislaus County has been experiencing “extreme” levels of drought, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor. Though many local farmers understood that the numbers were worrisome, it wasn’t until several well pumps in the Turlock area suddenly stopped supplying water that one man knew that drastic action needed to be taken.
Joe Sallaberry is one of the farmers who experienced the loss of well water. The 85-year-old has lived in Turlock since 1965 and has been in charge of overseeing two well pumps in the region since 1970. He explained that, since April, he has seen multiple wells either stop pumping water for certain periods of time or pump out sand instead of water.
“About four months ago, I went to check on one of the pumps. I turned it on and it was pumping around 300 gallons for five or six seconds, when suddenly it turns off. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we ran out of water,’” Sallaberry said.
He explained that the well stayed dormant for about 15 seconds before it ultimately began pumping water again, which is when he started looking into the design of the wells.
“What was happening was that the sand was caving in at the bottom of the well because the steel was rusting. While it doesn’t happen often, it’s not something I haven’t seen before,” he said. “It usually takes around $10,000 to temporarily fix the problem, but I thought of something different.”
Sallaberry designed a specific process that could remove the dirt without the high expenses and grueling labor.
“I have a 400 CFM air compressor that I latch onto a uniquely designed pump. The air quickly pushes the dirt up and through the holes in perforator and frees up the holes so that water can start coming back into the well. It’ll take only five minutes for water to start pumping again,” he said.
Sallaberry is calling his new creation the Well Saver. The Well Saver is currently in the process of being patented, which is why he is hesitant to share any photos of its design.
Since the age of 11, living in the rural Basque region of France, Sallaberry has had a creative mind tailored to solving problems he experienced on the farms. During his more than eight decades of life, he was successfully registered eight different patents, ranging from bird catchers to skin creams. The Well Saver will be his ninth.
“Throughout my life, I always see people wasting money and wasting time to do projects,” Sallaberry said. “The thing is, many issues can have simple solutions, it’s just that people either don’t realize it, or they purposefully want to get extra money out of people. I’ve helped over two dozen local farmers with this new concept already, all for five to six thousand dollars. I never do this for the money.”
One of the farmers he has helped is Harold Agresti. The well on Agresti’s property was one of the many that was pumping out pure sand. He went to Sallabery, a longtime family friend, for help.
“He thought he was going to have to pay thousands of dollars to get it fixed and thought that it would take days to get done,” Sallaberry explained. “I went to go work on it on my own when he was gone and he came back to clean water fully pumping.”
Agresti says that the fix and the full functionality of the well to pump clean water saved him around $125,000 to $130,000 dollars on that one day alone.
“We are already worried about our water supply with this drought, so it’s important that we know how to access this water,” Sallaberry said. “What good is having wells and paying for the water if we can’t get all the water.”
Sallaberry expects to serve more people once the patent is official later this year.