City of Turlock staff and representatives from both Turlock Irrigation District and the Del Puerto Water District convened Tuesday evening for a public workshop on the most precious and sought after commodity in the region: water.
While no vote was on the table at the second workshop instated by Mayor Gary Soiseth aimed at creating more transparency between the City and its citizens, the future of the City’s precious resource and to which users it will be given took center stage.
In the past year both surface water for drinking and recycled water for irrigation purposes have been discussed amongst the City, TID, and Del Puerto due to the establishment of the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Project – a proposal to sell treated wastewater to farmers in west Stanislaus County by developing what would be one of the largest regional recycled water projects in the nation.
The roughly $100 million project would help provide a reliable water supply to the 45,000 acres of farmland serviced by the Del Puerto Water District, using treated recycled water from the cities of Turlock and Modesto that would be pumped to the westside through the Delta-Mendota Canal. The Delta-Mendota Canal is a federal entity that afforded Del Puerto growers zero inches of water last year due to the ongoing drought.
“We’re all facing groundwater sustainability laws and requirements in California that’s not specific to this regions,” Del Puerto Water District General Manager Anthea Hansen on Tuesday, advocating for the water on Tuesday. “We’re at a junction where a decision needs to be made.”
TID has a vested interest in the water as well for their growers who were allotted 20 inches in 2014, 22 inches less than growers received in 2003. While both TID and Del Puerto are vying for the water, the City of Turlock is working to satisfy both parties.
“At this point it all boils down to quantities,” said Soiseth. “If we each get most of what we want, things will go through.”
If the City does not provide Del Puerto water through the Harding Drain Bypass it could owe the State of California millions of dollars because state funds used to construct the drain stipulated how it must be used. The City is presently researching opportunities to fulfill its grant agreement and work with TID.
The City began informal discussions with TID last week and the district is lessening its demands for tertiary water and is considering accepting alternative non-potable water solutions. The City presently supplies TID water at no charge for the Walnut Energy Center, which could be taken into consideration when outlining an agreement between the two agencies.
Treating wells that have been rendered useless due to restrictive state standards for arsenic were also considered at Tuesday's workshop. However, with costs averaging between $1 million to $2 million dollars per treatment, Soiseth said the idea is a “Band-Aid solution” to a larger problem: accessibility to water.
“The days of cheap ground water are over,” he said at the workshop.
A long term solution would be the construction of a Regional Surface Water Project. Land has been purchased for the project that would provide Turlock and neighboring cities millions of gallons of drinking water daily, but the costs will come down on City water users down the road.
Having capital to build the facility up front, rather than a bond, proves beneficial for the City and while it would take several years to build, a regional surface water plant would afford locals reliable access to drinking water. Rates could double in future years, but the increases would be incremental, and not all rate payers are perturbed by this prospect.
Turlock High School Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher Ryan Hollister calculated the price of water per gallon with his students using City of Turlock water bills. With the costs being miniscule per gallon, especially compared to what customers pay for a water bottle at the store, Hollister said the increased water rates are far from irrational.
“I think it’s a very reasonable thing to have rate payers pay for this who have been living on the backs of what our forefathers have done for 100 years,” said Hollister. “It’s time for us to take some responsibly and make sure witness a sustainable city for the future of our children.”
The next public workshop is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 17 with the topic being local roads, interchanges and corridors. The workshops will be held in the Yosemite Room of City Hall at 156 S. Broadway.