Turlock, Ceres advance water treatment plant

An engineering firm got the OK on Wednesday to refine plans for a river water treatment plant proposed for Turlock and Ceres.

West Yost Associates will get $2.007 million for a year of work, including an estimate of how much water bills could rise if the project goes through.

The long-discussed plant on the Tuolumne River would supplement wells that now provide all of the cities’ water. The wells can be stressed during drought and exceed health standards at times.

“This is a big step forward for both Ceres and Turlock for water reliability,” Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth said after the 3-0 vote by the project’s governing board, which is known as the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority and met for all of six minutes on the matter. Votes in favor also came from Councilwoman Amy Bublak of Turlock and Councilman Ken Lane of Ceres. The other member, Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra, was not present but has supported the project in past votes.

This is a big step forward for both Ceres and Turlock for water reliability.

Gary Soiseth, mayor of Turlock

The total cost for the project has been estimated at $150 million to $200 million, but that was when it included south Modesto. That city withdrew last year because it found cheaper ways to enhance the area’s water service. The bulk of the city has been served for about 20 years by a Tuolumne River treatment plant operated by the Modesto Irrigation District.

That plant is credited with reducing demand on wells, thus recharging an aquifer tapped by both city residents and farmers. Turlock and Ceres hope to do the same with their plant, which the Turlock Irrigation District has already agreed to supply with raw water.

The project has been discussed off and on since 1987 but stalled mainly because of concerns about the cost to water customers. The planning at times included Hughson, Denair, Keyes, Hilmar and Delhi. They can rejoin the project by paying a share of the costs.

West Yost, based in Davis, will provide information that helps the partners decide whether to move into detailed design and construction. The plant could be operating in perhaps three to five years, said Michael Cooke, municipal services director for Turlock.

West Yost will take a new look at the project parameters now that south Modesto is not part of it, said Gerry Nakano, a vice president in its Pleasanton branch. It also will assess current water treatment technology and whether state and federal loans and grants might help with the cost.

Demand will likely be lower than projected previously because of conservation efforts and a state law requiring water meters.

The plant would be built where Geer Road crosses the Tuolumne. TID installed intake pipes in the streambed in 2001, when it was planning to build the plant itself. This is part of about $8 million already spent on the project by various parties.

“Exciting moment,” Bublak said just before the vote. “This is huge for Stanislaus County, for water in general, for agriculture.”

Backers also note a benefit to salmon and other river fish: Some of the farm water now diverted near La Grange would flow an additional 25 miles to Geer.

John Holland: 209-578-2385