Two irrigation districts sparring over wastewater in Turlock

jholland@modbee.comFebruary 18, 2014 

DN TID water

Turlock Irrigation District office on Canal Dr., in Turlock, July 9, 2013.

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— Two irrigation districts sparred Tuesday over which should get the treated wastewater from Turlock’s kitchens and bathrooms.

The Del Puerto Water District, based in Patterson, had been closing in on a deal with the city to provide some of the water to its farmers.

The Turlock Irrigation District got the City Council to postpone the deal last month so it could make its case for using the supply.

Tuesday morning, the TID board voted 5-0 to have General Manager Casey Hashimoto negotiate with the city on its behalf. The action came over the objections of Anthea Hansen, acting general manager at Del Puerto.

“You’re appointing someone as a formality to negotiate for a supply of water that’s already spoken for,” she said.

The dispute does not involve water that could be used in this extremely dry year, because the sale is not expected to be approved in time by the State Water Resources Control Board. But it does underscore long-term concerns about how to stretch the Northern San Joaquin Valley’s water supplies.

Del Puerto serves about 45,000 acres along Interstate 5 between Vernalis and Santa Nella. The conditions this year have reduced to zero its allocation from the federal Central Valley Project, but it has received less than its contracted water even in wetter years.

Del Puerto farmers could use as much as 90,000 acre-feet of water if it were available. This year, Hansen said, it will have to rely mainly on about 15,000 acre-feet carried over in the San Luis Reservoir from last year. Only some growers have wells, she said, and other districts that sold excess water in the past are not doing so in 2014.

Up to 20,000 acres of annual crops could lie fallow this year so more water can go to almonds and other permanent crops on the rest of the land, Hansen said.

The initial, five-year deal for Turlock’s wastewater would start at 11,000 acre-feet in the first year and reach 13,000 by the fifth. It is an interim step toward a permanent system that could provide Del Puerto with 32,900 acre-feet a year in a partnership with Stanislaus County and the cities of Turlock, Modesto and Ceres. The full project could be completed by 2018.

Under the terms of the initial sale, Del Puerto would pay $75 per acre-foot to Turlock.

The water can be used on cropland thanks to upgrades at Turlock’s sewage treatment plant, which uses filtration, disinfection and other steps to clean up the effluent.

TID officials said the city led them to believe that the water would be available in the future to make up for some of the Tuolumne River water going to a proposed treatment plant for Turlock, Ceres and south Modesto, all of which are in the district’s boundaries. The plant would reduce the cities’ reliance on wells.

TID, which irrigates about 150,000 acres, could blend the wastewater with canal water in some of its western reaches.

TID board member Michael Frantz said this new supply would “make whole” the farmers who would give up some of their river water to the proposed treatment plant.

“I empathize (with Del Puerto) because it certainly is not fun to be dry,” he said, “and we wouldn’t be talking here if there was enough water to go around.”

The wastewater issue is expected to return to the City Council next month.

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

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