I-Team looks into Whitewater rest area closures

The rest area was closed on December 26.

Whitewater rest area reopens after extended closure

WHITEWATER, Calif.- - The Whitewater rest area reopens at 10 a.m., ending an extended closure that began on December 26. Both the eastbound and westbound rest areas were shut down while water pump repairs were conducted. 

The Whitewater rest area has been snakebitten by repeated closures over the years, often due to water pump problems. 

"A couple of days ago, I was feeling really, really feeling sleepy," said Carlos Garcia, a truck driver making the trek from Phoenix. "And I wanted to rest, but it's closed here. I cannot rest beside the freeway because highway patrol will give you a ticket."

The latest closure, one of 15 closures at this rest stop since September 2015, was due to a failed pump.

"When we don't have water that's usable at a rest area, we cannot open it to the public," Terri Kasinga, Chief of Public Affairs for Caltrans District 8.

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Caltrans officials said pump failures have been a recent issue at the stop. With three pumps installed in the last two years, while trying to figure out the root of the problem. 

"You're not getting water from the well to the facility. Which means that you cannot use the sinks. There's no drinking water available at the fountains and you cannot use the toilets," Kazinga said. So, that's why we don't have the public in here because they're expecting to use the facilities, and then they're not available and that can lead to vandalism too. 

Michael Mann of Palm Springs Pump has been working with Caltrans to replace the pumps at the rest stop. He says they found the cause of the pump failure after the second failure. An old well that can't produce the same amount of water.

"As you try to pull more water out that it can handle, as it gets older, it starts to have pump problems. They break suction, they heat up," Mann said.

Mann said he and his crew recently put in a new, smaller pump, about half the size of the original one. The new pump will put out fewer gallons of water and consume less power but will ultimately be able to handle the same level of demand here at the rest area. 

"So we figured, by downsizing the pump, that it's going to take a less electrical load so we won't have those issues," Mann said. "B. it will reduce the load. so we won't have the extra stresses on the well."

Mann and others are hopeful that the third time's the charm in Whitewater.

Kasinga said another rest area, Valley Wells near Baker, has had similar issues of having an old well.  She also said Caltrans officials will be discussing whether to open rest areas for people to park and rest while they work on other parts of the facility.  

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