Recycled water project to help West Side reaches milestone

The North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program – in which Modesto and Turlock will send highly treated wastewater to Del Puerto Water District farmers – has reached a major milestone.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation approved what is called the record of decision for the project during a ceremony Friday at the district’s Patterson office. That means the agency has approved the final federal environmental reports for the project, which will allow the two cities to send the water via the bureau’s Delta-Mendota Canal to the water district.

It also means the district can store unused water it receives from the two cities during the rainy season at the Grasslands Wildlife Area, the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, the Los Banos Wildlife Area and other wetlands.

“This is the largest new block of water developed for San Joaquin Valley wetlands in a quarter century,” Audubon California Working Lands Director Meghan Hertel said in a news release. “The drought has shown how vulnerable these wetlands are, as well as the wildlife that depends on them. This project shows how cooperation can provide effective solutions.”

David Murillo, regional director of the bureau’s mid-Pacific region, signed the the record of decision.

Modesto is working to build a pipeline from its Jennings Road wastewater treatment plant to the Delta-Mendota Canal. Modesto is completing the process of getting a roughly $60 million, 30-year, 1 percent loan for the project. It also hopes to get a $15 million state grant that would reduce how much it borrows.

The district will reimburse Modesto for its costs and provide the city with about $500,000 in annual revenue in exchange for the treated wastewater, according to a 40-year agreement between the two governments. Modesto could be sending water to Del Puerto in January 2018.

Turlock is further behind. Its City Council is expected to consider approving an agreement with Del Puerto on Tuesday. The project calls for Turlock to build a pipeline to send its treated wastewater to Modesto’s Jennings Road plant.

Del Puerto farmers have been hit hard by five years of drought, and environmental regulations also have cut their water allocations. The district is roughly 45,000 acres and stretches from Vernalis to Santa Nella. Its farmers grow almonds, walnuts, peaches, cherries and other crops. They have fallowed about a quarter of their land because of limited water.

The project will provide them with a reliable water source and could provide them with as much as one-third of their normal demand.

“It was a very positive, a very wonderful day in the history of the Del Puerto Water District,” district General Manager Anthea Hansen said about Friday’s ceremony.