In a county where every drop of water seems precious, a project to repurpose treated wastewater has cleared an environmental hurdle.
Officials gathered Wednesday at the Delta-Mendota Canal near Patterson to mark the latest milestone of the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program. State-required environmental studies have been certified, moving the program fairly close to design and construction.
The $100 million project will deliver highly treated wastewater from Modesto and Turlock to farmland in western Stanislaus County that has received no federal water allocations for two years.
After the speeches and applause for those who have worked on the project, a West Side citrus grower stepped to the podium and emphasized the need for the recycled water.
Barat Bisabri, managing partner of Shiraz Ranch of Newman, said the business growing fruit and nut crops near Interstate 5 won’t survive without a new water source.
Bisabri said 95 percent of his irrigation water normally comes from the federal canal. His water costs were $80,000 in 2013, but those costs are $1.2 million this year because of transfer deals needed to keep his trees alive, he said.
Modesto, Turlock, Ceres, Del Puerto Water District and Stanislaus County are partners in the North Valley project, which is modeled after the use of recycled municipal wastewater to irrigate food crops in Monterey County.
Brad Hawn, a former Modesto councilman and chief proponent, said it would be a first for conveying recycled water in a federal canal. For decades, the Central Valley Project has delivered water stored in reservoirs to farmland in the western San Joaquin Valley, but drought and environmental regulations have served to cut allocations for farmers.
The state has required Modesto and Turlock to clean their wastewater almost to drinking-water quality. A price is being negotiated for the cities to sell their wastewater to farmers in the 45,000-acre Del Puerto district, stretching from Vernalis to Santa Nella. Modesto would send the recycled water through a pipeline running from the Jennings Road treatment plant along Lemon Avenue and Zacharias Road to the Delta-Mendota Canal, which delivers water to Del Puerto farmers.
“As long as we keep taking showers and flushing toilets, we can guarantee you water,” Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh said at the event.
Hawn praised federal Bureau of Reclamation officials for their openness to the concept. Rick Woodley, a regional resources manager for the bureau in Sacramento, said he has received frequent calls about the proposal from the Department of the Interior and other officials in Washington, D.C.
Woodley said he expects other recycled water proposals because of limited water supplies in California and the need to maximize use of water. “The success of this project going forward has gotten some people’s attention,” he said.
A state water board official, who spoke, said studies are taking a hard look at other recycled water options in California, including storing highly treated municipal wastewater in drinking water reservoirs.
The 30,600 acre-feet of recycled water from Modesto will supply one-third of the needs for Del Puerto farmers and give them a stable water source, said district General Manager Anthea Hansen. The recycled water from Turlock would ultimately push the total to about 59,000 acre-feet.
Turlock is farther behind in working out financing issues. The city could run a pipe across the San Joaquin River from its Harding Drain or connect with Modesto’s system via a new pipeline built along South Carpenter Road, West Main and Jennings Road.
Noting that a key approval is needed from the State Water Resources Control Board, Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth appealed to the state to “Help us help ourselves.”
The city has worked out a deal to provide some of its recycled water to Turlock Irrigation District, removing potential opposition from TID. Westlands Water District of Fresno County raised some concerns about water quality in the Delta-Mendota, but those have been alleviated, Hawn said.
The next steps include hiring consultants to assist with finding a contractor able to design and build the pipeline system, getting water right approvals and permits to discharge into the Delta-Mendota, and completing a federal environmental study.
To build the pipelines and pumps, the local agencies are counting on loans or grants from a state revolving fund. Hawn said he believes the facilities will cost less than the $100 million estimate.
Farmers hope they can start using the water in 2017 or 2018, said Earl Perez, a Del Puerto board member. Without the project, Perez said, a lot of cropland would be idled and more pressure placed on groundwater.
“The wells we have now are going down in production,” Perez said.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321