Florence Luiz was 108 years old when she died a couple of years ago.
Ralph Anderson, who lived down the road in the same rural block, was 98 years old when he passed away several years earlier.
They shared one thing in common. They drank water from the wells on their properties. The significance of that, as pointed by family members and neighbors, is that the late nonagenarian and centenarian lived next door to Nile Garden Elementary on Nile Avenue in rural south Manteca.
A Manteca Bulletin reader who did not want to give his name also said that his grandfather, who is also a neighbor of the Panthers’ campus, has been drinking water from the family well all his life without apparent ill effects. “My grandfather is 90 years old and lived right next to the school for 70 to 75 years – 70 years at least – drinking the same water that comes out of the well there at his house,” said the man who was commenting on Nile Garden’s drinking-water woes.
Students and staff are not allowed to drink water from the school wells because the amount of contaminants, including arsenic, does not meet government-mandated safe levels for human consumption. For this reason, bottled potable drinking water is being supplied and delivered by truck load to the school campus. Water from the wells is being utilized mainly for landscaping irrigation.
“I don’t think there’s anything the matter with the (well) water,” said Arnold “Butch” Rothlin, Jr. who lives right next door to the school.
“The cows drank it. The water tastes good. I like it,” said the Manteca farmer. His wife, Rose, is the granddaughter of Florence who lived past the century mark.
The concern that this southernmost school campus in Manteca Unified could be shut down over the issue of safe drinking water was brought up at a recent meeting of the Board of Trustees. The comment was made by Jeff McLarty, who used to work in maintenance at Nile Garden, that everyone evaded discussing the matter about the drinking water they were “scared they’re going to shut down the school,” but added, “I don’t think that needs to happen.”
Those interviewed also did not think that closing the school is the answer.
The possibility of shutting down the school came on the heels of the discussion on the results of the $205,000 test-well drilling project that was completed in December 2013. The purpose was to determine if there is any possibility of constructing a well whose water content does not exceed mandated safe contaminant levels. The test drills came back with “mixed results at best,” reported Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke.
The discussions that followed brought up several other alternatives that would provide the school with safe drinking water. One that is being explored is future connection with city water. Another that was thrown in was the possibility of constructing an arsenic treatment plant which could be cost prohibitive. Closing the campus was the worst-case scenario that was considered.