TID board OKs sale of water to proposed treatment plant

The Turlock Irrigation District agreed Tuesday to sell some of its Tuolumne River water to a treatment plant proposed for three cities.

The 5-0 decision by the district board was a major milestone in a 28-year effort to reduce reliance on wells in Turlock, Ceres and south Modesto. Their leaders have not yet decided to go forward with the project, estimated at $150 million to $200 million, but it clearly has momentum.

The project would be roughly similar to a Modesto Irrigation District plant that for 20 years has provided Tuolumne water to the rest of Modesto. This has meant less pumping of wells that can be stressed during drought or shut down because of contaminants.

“For every drop of surface water, cities don’t have to take that from the ground,” said Tou Her, assistant general manager for water resources at TID.

Representatives of the three cities, acting as the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority, could vote on the agreement Thursday.

The 50-year pact provides for up to 30,000 acre-feet of water annually. TID’s farmers have topped 500,000 acre-feet in years of abundant rain and snow, but the extreme drought this year has cut the supply by 62 percent.

As part of the deal, TID will get some of the recycled wastewater that Turlock and Modesto have been planning to sell to farmers in the Del Puerto Water District, a West Side supplier with even more severe cutbacks in recent years. Del Puerto had raised concerns about this, but they have been allayed in the agreement.

TID would sell the river water to the cities at the highest rate tier for its farmers, currently $20 per acre-foot. The urban users would face the same dry-year reductions as the irrigation customers.

The cities created the authority in 2011 to work toward the river treatment plant, planned for where Geer Road crosses the Tuolumne. Its general manager, Steve Stroud, said it could be operating as soon as 2020 if the environmental study, design and construction go smoothly.

“We’re encouraged by the fact that the (TID) board gave a pretty ringing endorsement to the project,” he said.

Discussion on the plant started in 1987 but was sidetracked several times, mainly due to cost concerns.

The estimate needs to be updated, Stroud said, but it is not expected to change much. Water customers in the three cities can expect major rate increases, although grants could be sought to reduce their share.

The agreement provides TID with at least 2,000 acre-feet per year of the water that Turlock and Modesto reclaim through their advanced sewage-treatment processes. The cities would provide more – including this recycled water and nonpotable well water – in years when river supplies for farmers fall short. The total received by TID would be capped at 15,000 acre-feet a year.

Del Puerto, which straddles Interstate 5 from Tracy to Santa Nella, has counted on the recycled water to make up for much of its contracted supply from the federal Central Valley Project. Drought and fish protections reduced the allotment to zero this year and last.

General Manager Anthea Hansen said the district could live with TID’s agreement with the cities, because much of the dry-year offset would come from wells rather than the recycled water. That allows Del Puerto to move forward with plans to get close to 30,000 acre-feet of reclaimed water by perhaps 2018 and twice that as the cities grow in the coming decades, she said.

John Holland: 209-578-2385

What’s next

The sale agreement for Tuolumne River water will be considered Thursday by the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority, made up of elected officials from Turlock, Ceres and Modesto. Approval would allow them to continue with planning for a treatment plant for the water. The authority will meet at 5 p.m. in Room 2001 in the city-county building at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.