Turlock Irrigation District, Del Puerto spar over recycled water

Water flows in a Turlock Irrigation District canal along Hatch Road in Ceres.
Water flows in a Turlock Irrigation District canal along Hatch Road in Ceres. aalfaro@modbee.com

A dispute has flared again over which irrigation district should get highly treated water from the city’s sewage plant.

The board of the Turlock Irrigation District voted 5-0 Tuesday night for a resolution affirming its interest in the supply. The action came over objections from the Del Puerto Water District, which plans to use the water for its farmers along Interstate 5.

The dispute demonstrates that the idea of recycling water from city kitchens and bathrooms has become mainstream. Turlock’s sophisticated new treatment plant, like many others in California and beyond, makes this supply fit for use on crops.

And the discussion shows that drought worries have extended even to TID, which long has had an ample water supply but could lose some of it to drought and river fish protections. It is not in as bad a shape as Del Puerto, which is getting zero water this year from the federal Central Valley Project, but leaders said Tuesday that drastic cutbacks could eventually happen.

TID is seeking the recycled water in dry years to make up for some of the Tuolumne River water it might supply to a proposed treatment plant that would provide drinking water to Turlock, Ceres and south Modesto.

“We recognize and will do everything we can to minimize the impact to existing irrigation customers,” said Tou Her, assistant general manager for water resources.

The recycled water could be used in western portions of TID’s service area, which covers about 150,000 acres in southern Stanislaus and northern Merced counties.

Del Puerto serves about 45,000 acres in a narrow band between Vernalis and Santa Nella. It has been working with the city of Turlock to buy about 13,000 acre-feet of recycled water per year over five years. This would be an interim step toward a permanent supply of 59,000 acre-feet, including wastewater from Modesto, Ceres, Denair and Keyes.

Anthea Hansen, general manager at Del Puerto, urged the TID board not to pass the resolution, just as she did with a related vote in February.

“It seems to me the favored approach has been to edit Del Puerto and its customers out of the picture,” she said.

TID officials have said the recycled water should stay in the Turlock area to benefit agriculture, but Hansen said using it in Del Puerto would provide similar benefits. She noted that many of her farmers go to Turlock to buy tractors, chemicals, irrigation supplies and other items.

The Turlock City Council was about to vote on the first sale to Del Puerto in January, but it held off so the city staff could hear about TID’s interest. Under the deal, the city would receive $75 per acre-foot.

The recycled water would not be available until next year because the city and Del Puerto need to complete the state process for securing rights to it.

Del Puerto also aims to get a substantial amount of water from private farm pumps in Merced County, an idea that has generated protest.

The Tuolume River treatment plant has been discussed since the 1980s as a way to reduce the cities’ reliance on wells. Turlock, Ceres and south Modesto are within TID’s boundary.

The rest of Modesto and a few smaller communities have supplemented their wells since the mid-1990s with a treatment plant owned by the Modesto Irrigation District.