Turlock may sell recycled water to farmers

jholland@modbee.comJanuary 13, 2014 

  • MEETING TONIGHT

    What: Turlock City Council meeting

    When: 6 p.m.

    Where: Turlock City Hall, 156 S. Broadway

— The Turlock City Council could decide tonight to sell highly treated wastewater to drought-wracked farms on the West Side.

The sale to the Del Puerto Water District would meet just 10 percent of its demand, and it might not start until next year, General Manager Bill Harrison said Monday. But any water is welcome during a drought that shows no sign of ending, he said.

The district stretches across about 45,000 acres, straddling Interstate 5 from Vernalis to Santa Nella.

Turlock has upgraded its sewage treatment – with filtration, disinfection and other steps – to the point where the discharge into the San Joaquin River is suitable for cropland. It would be especially useful when fresh water supplies fall short.

“That’s one of the beauties of recycled water,” Harrison said. “Even in dry years, people take showers and flush their toilets.”

The city proposes to sell up to 13,000 acre-feet per year to Del Puerto over five years. The sale would be an interim step toward a system that supplies the district with 32,900 acre-feet of recycled water in a partnership involving Stanislaus County and the cities of Turlock, Modesto and Ceres. It could be completed in 2018.

The initial sale would be at $75 per acre-foot. That is much more than farmers pay in the Turlock or Modesto irrigation districts, but less than what some West Side districts could pay for outside water if the drought does not ease.

Turlock must first get approval through the water-rights process at the state Water Resources Control Board, which could take as long as 18 months, said Anthea Hansen, assistant general manager at Del Puerto. It hopes to get the water flowing for at least some of the 2014 irrigation season, she said.

Del Puerto is supplied by the federal Delta-Mendota Canal, fed by massive pumps in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The drought and fish protections have led to a projection of zero deliveries this year to this and other districts that have the lowest priority for water allocations.

Del Puerto has carried over 16,000 to 18,000 acre-feet of federal water in San Luis Reservoir thanks to conservation efforts, Harrison said. It also has been buying in recent years from districts that have had much smaller federal cutbacks, but that might not be possible if these agencies need the water this year, he said.

Del Puerto farmers likely will skip annual crops this year so they can reserve the water for almonds and other permanent crops, he said. Orchards and vineyards cover about 60 percent of the district.

The plan for the recycled water is to start with 11,000 acre-feet per year and work up to 13,000 by the fifth year. It would not be a direct transfer. Instead, Del Puerto would take water from the Delta-Mendota Canal at a volume equal to what Turlock releases into the San Joaquin River, which flows into the Delta.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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