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Water group looks to build synergy

POSTED March 18, 2011 7:42 p.m.

Local agencies are banding together to form a regional water management group in Stanislaus County – one of California’s only populated areas not to have such a group – in hopes of obtaining millions in state water funds for local projects.

The East Stanislaus Regional Water Management Group would identify area water resources, challenges, goals and solutions. Those goals would help plan for water projects in a large swath of Stanislaus County and the portions of the Turlock Irrigation District in Merced County, stretching from the Stanislaus River on the north to the Merced River on the south, Tuolumne County on the east, and the San Joaquin River and Westside-San Joaquin water management region on the west.

The process isn’t intended to prevent municipalities from planning at the local level, but looks to build upon regional synergies to solve broader water issues more effectively. Rather than building two, small water treatment plants, a region might instead build one large plant – a move which could also bring flood control and habitat protection benefits to a region.

“The Department of Water Resources in the State of California is really into regional water management,” said Dave Richardson of RMC Water and Environment, the environmental engineering company helping to plan the group.  “It’s an issue they’ve been pushing for the last four or five years, and we’ve been seeing it more and more.”

The DWR has adopted a “carrot and stick” approach to ensure regions create these groups, Richardson said, by designating millions specifically for projects identified in Integrated Regional Water Management Plans.

“Other regions have received a considerable amount of money,” said Turlock Municipal Service Director Dan Madden. “Now that we are developing an IRWMP, we too will go into that pool.”

Nearly $1.3 billion in state water funds are already tied to IRWMPs, with a further $11 billion bond measure planned once the economy recovers. In Prop 84 funds alone, $57 million is devoted to IRWMPs in the Central California region.

Those funds could go toward oft-discussed regional water projects like the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Project, intended to pipe treated wastewater to water-starved farmers on the Westside, or a proposed surface water treatment plant, which would turn flows from the Tuolumne River into drinking water for Turlock, Ceres, Hughson, and South Modesto.

“The more money we get from the state, the less has to come out of everyone else’s pockets, and that’s what we’re aiming for,” said Leslie Dumas of RMC.

The Water Management group will apply to the state for acceptance as a region in April. This summer, the group will apply for state planning grants, which will aid in the development of a plan of projects for the region. In summer 2012, the region could apply for project funding.

The region is currently headed by a management group comprised of the Cities of Modesto, Ceres, Hughson, and Turlock. But the group is open to other agencies joining.

And the public will play a huge role in determining what projects make the final plan, as a Public Advisory Committee will come up with a methodology to rank projects and determine goals.

 “This is not intended to be a project done solely by a small group of people,” Dumas said. “The intention is that anyone can come to the table.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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