Modesto City Council to study selling water

Farmers on West Side could buy treated waste

January 12, 2010 

One man's trash is another man's treasure, and the same goes for waste water.

The Modesto City Council on Tuesday night advanced a plan to sell its treated waste water to drought-stricken West Side farmers.

The council voted 7-0 to pay for part of a feasibility study that will look at how the city could pipe treated waste water from its Jennings Road sewer plant to the Del Puerto Water District. The district is a narrow, 45,000-acre strip that hugs Interstate 5.

It's home to almond, walnut and apricot growers who've seen their livelihoods threatened by a prolonged drought and restrictions on water pumping. The district's water deliveries have dropped to 10 percent of normal allotments.

Modesto city officials say selling the city's treated waste water would provide a reliable supply of water to the farmers. It also would pour extra revenue into city coffers, which have suffered their own drought in recent years.

Cities usually see waste water as a burden that's expensive to treat. Now Modesto has a chance to transform that burden into a resource that people are willing to pay for, Councilman Brad Hawn said. "This is a real commodity now; it's not just something you dump in the river," Hawn said.

Right now Modesto's treated waste water ends up in the San Joaquin River or is dumped on city-owned ranch land next to the sewage treatment plant.

Hawn and other Stanislaus County officials recently visited Monterey County, where they saw artichoke and strawberry growers who use treated waste water to irrigate their fields. The treated water is considered safe enough to swim in, but it's not safe to drink.

Building the pipeline and storage facilities needed to move Modesto's waste water to the Del Puerto Water District would cost roughly $35 million, said Nick Pinhey, director of utility projects and planning. Selling the treated water could generate $1.8 million to $2.3 million in revenue for the city.

With the Tuesday night vote, the council OK'd spending $25,000 on the feasibility study. The water district will pay $25,000 toward the $100,000 study. City officials say they have a verbal agreement from the Bureau of Reclamation to pay the rest.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378. Follow her at twitter.com/beereporter.

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