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Ceres, Turlock look to $272M project to secure their water futures

Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra was among the officials who spoke Friday to mark the beginning of construction of a water treatment plant along the Tuolumne River that will serve Ceres and Turlock.The ceremony was held near Fox Grove Park near Hughson and along the river.
Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra was among the officials who spoke Friday to mark the beginning of construction of a water treatment plant along the Tuolumne River that will serve Ceres and Turlock.The ceremony was held near Fox Grove Park near Hughson and along the river. kvaline@modbee.com

Officials from Ceres, Turlock and the Turlock Irrigation District gathered Friday near Fox Grove Park along the Tuolumne River to celebrate the start of construction of a roughly $272 million project that will provide the two cities with reliable and clean drinking water.

Officials said the project will secure the cities’ futures and economic vitality because it gives them a second water source — the Tuolumne River — in addition to the groundwater they now pump.

Officials say groundwater requires extensive treatment to rid it of contaminants (including arsenic and phosphates), must meet increasingly strict state and federal standards, and is not sustainable.

“We have declining groundwater quality and supplies,” Turlock Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke said in an interview. The project also will let the groundwater recover as both cities pump less water from the ground.

The project comes as the State Water Resources Control Board seeks to require much more water from the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers to flow into the San Joaquin Sacramento Delta, a proposal local officials say will devastate this region’s ag-based economy.

TID Board President Charles Fernandes took a dig at the state during his remarks Friday by saying this project was a great example of how regional needs are being solved through regional partnerships.

Ceres and Turlock through a joint powers authority called the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority will build a water treatment plant that initially will provide Ceres with 5 million gallons and Turlock 10 million gallons of water per day on average. That’s a huge amount for both cities. For instance, Turlock uses 18 million gallons per day on average.

The treatment plant, which will be built on a bluff overlooking Fox Grove Park near Hughson, should be operational by 2022. The Turlock Irrigation District will supply the Tuolumne River water for the plant.

Friday’s ceremony marked the beginning of construction for the project, which entails building what is called a wet well along the river. The well is a roughly 60-feet-deep vault that will store water pulled from perforated pipes in the river. Construction is expected to take a little more than a year.

The rest of the project includes building a pump station on top of the wet well, and a pipe from the station that eventually splits, with one part carrying water to the nearby water treatment plant, and the other part carrying water to the TID’s Ceres Main Canal, providing irrigation water to district farmers and growers.

The TID will own the wet well, pump station and pipe and will pay its share toward their construction.

Cooke estimated the project’s cost at $272 million, with Turlock responsible for $172 million and Ceres $100 million.

Ceres and Turlock will use a $30 million state grant, reserves and a low-interest state loan to pay for the project. The city councils in both cities have approved roughly doubling what their water customers pay over five years to help pay for the project.

For instance, the monthly water bill for a typical single-family home could rise to about $88 in Ceres and about $79 in Turlock by 2022. But the two cities are looking for more grants to reduce what their customers will pay for the project.

But water customers still were facing increases, though not as steep, if the cities had not pursued this project. Officials said that’s because the cities would have needed more money to improve their groundwater supplies.

The TID will reduce the amount of water it supplies Ceres and Turlock by the same amount that it reduces what it provides its farmers and growers during times of drought.

But Ceres and Turlock officials say that even getting less river water in those circumstances still puts them in a better position than where they are today.

With this project, Ceres and Turlock will join Modesto in having a drinking water supply that comes from groundwater and the Tuolumne River. Modesto partnered with the Modesto Irrigation District more than 20 years ago to build a drinking water plant at the Modesto Reservoir.

Modesto also had been a partner in this project but dropped out about three years ago because of its share of the project’s cost and it did not need the additional water.

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