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Council candidates talk water
Through the Regional Surface Water Supply Project, Tuolumne River water will be treated at a water treatment plant currently under construction to provide Ceres and Turlock with clean, safe, reliable drinking water (Photo courtesy of SRWA).

Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series where the Journal will ask Turlock mayoral and city council candidates to give their positions on four issues that are key to the majority of the city’s residents: roads, water, homelessness and public safety.


As drought conditions worsen in the area and the state enacts more conservation mandates, a project three decades in the making is nearly complete and is scheduled to deliver a reliable source of drinking water to Turlock residents by next year. 

The Regional Surface Water Supply Project was formed in 2011 as the Cities of Turlock and Ceres, in cooperation with Turlock Irrigation District, to start the process of building a plant to deliver treated Tuolumne River water to residents. The City of Turlock has been working for 30 years to secure this alternate drinking source, as its current drinking water supply is 100% groundwater — and dwindling. 

Studies for the project began in 2016, with design taking place from 2018 to 2021. In December 2017, the City of Turlock adopted a new water rate structure beginning in 2018 and increasing every year for five years to help service current groundwater wells and fund the new $220 million surface water treatment project. Last year, construction on the project began.

With this in mind, the Journal asked Turlock mayoral and City Council candidates the following questions: As a council member, how would you work to secure a reliable drinking water source for the City of Turlock? What kind of conservation efforts do you think the City of Turlock should mandate?

Here are their answers:

Mayoral candidate Gil Esquer: As a council member & vice-Mayor I helped secure our drinking water source for the next 50 years. I supported the SRWA water treatment facility from the time I was elected to the council. I knew it was a vital issue for Turlock because our drinking water sources were dropping below a sustainable level for our growing population. I supported directing city staff to pursue State and Federal grants to lessen the original $280 Million dollar price tag. As a result of the awarded grants and the excellent low interest rate on the loan, the original project price tag was reduced by over $100 million. Due to this, as Mayor I will revisit the scheduled water rate increases because I still feel the 5th water rate increase could have been repealed. 

As for the city's conservation efforts, water is the most precious resource we have, and as City leaders we should do our utmost to instill best practices to conserve, restore and educate citizens to do their part. 

First, I feel we need to revisit the water rate fee structure and consider a more efficient tier fee structure that reflects one's usage. Second, there are cities that have established helpful programs showing great results that we should explore; such as providing incentives for property owners to install drought resistant yards. Our water situation is bleak, but I have hope that there is so much we can do at a local level to make tremendous progress ensuring this resource is available for generations to come.

Third, I believe the current one day a week watering plan should remain in effect until we weather through the current drought.

Mayoral candidate Amy Bublak: Turlock currently relies on ground water delivered through wells and piping. As many of you know, the Cities of Ceres and Turlock entered into an agreement to build a regional surface water plant to augment our water supply by adding TID surface water to our portfolio for Turlock residents.

As a candidate for Mayor, I opposed the plan for the surface water plant as it was presented because of the excessive costs. Unfortunately, vast increases in water rates are necessary to build and run the plant.

When it became clear the council majority supported the SRWA, I went to work to take steps to reduce the cost of the project.

I am pleased that we received a state grant of $27,750,000 dollars and that the cost to build the plant came in $83 million dollars less that originally estimated.

Finally, we are reviewing the operating expenses of the plant in hopes of reducing the annual operating costs of the plant by nearly $1 million.

These cost reductions will reduce the impact of water rate increases to our residents and businesses. So, at a reduced cost, we will have a more secure long-term water supply for the foreseeable future.

Concerning water conservation, I prefer education and encouragement rather than mandates. But, of course, we will implement the state-required conservation measures as necessary. In addition, new construction in Turlock is designed with water conservation in mind.

District 1 Council candidate Kevin Bixel: Our economy and our residents are beneficiaries of decades of planning and preparation from City leaders and regional partners like TID, through the creation of innovative storage solutions, the wastewater treatment plant that fuels sustainable growth of our industries, and now the, soon to be completed, new source of clean drinking water: our Surface Water Treatment Plant (SRWA).

I recognize that now water is no longer a given, it’s a luxury and it is not certain that we will have the water infrastructure to continue to meet the needs of our growing community. As your Councilmember, I am committed to ensuring Turlock can continue to be leaders in the Central Valley on water conservation, innovation, and water infrastructure. I will fight for a transparent process where citizens are fully educated on this issue so that we, together, can take an active role in shaping a prosperous future despite the adversity that lies ahead.

Ensuring our water sources are preserved and sustained is not going to be solved overnight, but, like I am telling voters every day on their doorsteps, as a steward of our community my leadership will be focused on the future generations of Turlock; not simply based on the popularity of a decision today.

District 1 Council candidate Chris Nichols:  Water is one of my 3 main concerns when dealing with the issues of Turlock, along with homelessness and roads. First, water conversation is very important. I would love to implement the City of Ceres program to give a rebate to those homes who have put in hardscapes or fake grass. The City of Ceres limits it to $1,000 per resident and $1,500 per business. Also, I want to bring more awareness to the citizens of Turlock that there are rebates available for new high efficiency water and toilets.

Drinking water is another concern that I have for the City of Turlock. There were more than 50 homes tested and 2 homes were found with high levels of copper and lead and that’s just 2 homes too many. I will also work very diligently with T.I.D. to fight for NOT increasing our rates. With more and more homes being built we have to be very diligent about our water consumption. Thank you Turlock and I look forward to representing you as your District 1 representative.

District 3 Council candidate Ryan Taylor: I am aware that we have a wonderful source of water 150 to 600 feet underground, the runoff from the surrounding areas gives us this source. I believe that the system we have in place for conservation is working right now with residents watering their yards twice a week. I see lots of green yards in our community. I have spoken with TID and they will give me their viewpoints later next week which will make me even more versed in this conversation.

District 3 Council candidate Cassandra Abram: Thanks to planning by our city leaders over many years, the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority will provide Turlock with a new water source from the Tuolumne River. This will reduce our dependence on our 18 operational wells and improve the quality of our water more efficiently than removing contaminants from our current wells. Introducing surface water into our system will help with supply, but there is more the city can do over the long term to reduce demand. Our city needs to expand the use of our recycled water, ideally so landscapes throughout the city can be watered with recycled water rather than our drinking water supply. We need to structure water rates to incentivize water conservation and to discourage excessive water use, with the threshold based on property size, household occupancy, and types of water use. The city should pilot grant programs to help residents transition to water-wise landscapes and irrigation systems. Expanding our water supply with surface water is a great benefit for Turlock, and now is the time to be forward-thinking with how we can best use that water for Turlock’s future.  

District 3 Council candidate Kelly Higgins: The City of Turlock already prioritizes our water. The current Council believes we must do everything we can to lower the cost of water.  I support their position that we have two sources of water, ground and the Surface Water Plant treatment.  In part, there is already a plan which includes prioritizing recycled water for landscaping and other Agriculture use and I believe drinking water from a separate pipeline.  I am learning more about the current water treatment plans now. We all have access to this information and I encourage residents to do some research on the City of Turlock website to learn more about it for themselves. 

I often look at what we can do as a community on top of what the City is doing for us. There are many ways we, as individuals, can help keep our water in quality status. We have to use common sense.  Don’t think, “It isn’t going to hurt if I pour this motor oil in the sewer. I am just one person.” It’s not just one person throwing away hazardous materials like paint or other harmful chemicals. None of it is good for our water but not everyone realizes this. As a Council Member, I will help educate our community on what we can do at home to keep our water clean and the importance of water conservation. 

 As far as mandates, here in California, we already have enough regulations on us that haven't really proven to be helpful. We need updated water storage systems and it would be great if our water was not redirected to other areas or sent out to the sea. No additional mandates until we find something that works for us. 

District 3 Council candidate Ramin Odisho: People of Turlock who use private wells or cisterns should have their water tested annually for germs and chemicals to ensure their drinking water is safe. The water flowing from your tap may come from hundreds of miles away. Public water systems are most often supplied by surface water or ground water. 

Other sources of clean and safe water can be found inside and outside the home. The following are possible sources of water:

Inside the Home

Water from your home’s tap water heater tank. This refers to the tank that connects to the water that comes out of your faucets and showerheads. (This is different than the tank used to supply hot water to radiators in older homes. In these homes, be sure to use the tap water heater tank, not the home heating system tank.)

  • Melted ice cubes made with water that was not contaminated
  • Water from your home’s toilet tank (not from the bowl), if it is clear and has not been chemically treated with toilet cleaners such as those that change the color of the water
  • Liquid from canned fruit and vegetables
  • Water from swimming pools and spas can be used for personal hygiene, cleaning, and related uses, but not for drinking.

Listen to reports from local officials for advice on water precautions in your home. It may be necessary to shut off the main water valve to your home to prevent contaminants from entering pipes in your home.

Outside the Home

Rivers, streams, and lakes might be contaminated with livestock waste, human sewage, chemicals, and other contaminants which can lead to illness when used for drinking, bathing, and other hygiene activities. During flood events, well water might be contaminated as well.

Water from sources outside the home must be treated as described in Make Water Safe, to kill harmful germs.  If you suspect or know the water is contaminated with toxic chemicals or fuels, it cannot be made safe and you should not drink or bathe in this water.

Possible sources of water that could be made safe by treatment include:


Streams, rivers, and other moving bodies of water

Ponds and lakes

Natural springs

Note: DO NOT USE water that has been contaminated by fuel or toxic chemicals. 

Lastly, make sure to fix leaks, install aerators, use water-wise plants, install drip irrigation & add a smart controller, reimagine your yard, set mower blades to 3”, adjust sprinkler heads & fix leaks, check your soil, soak slowly to avoid run-off. Please note that, voluntary residential water cuts are not just the solution, and that restrictions should be mandated for businesses and industries that use the vast majority of the state's water as well. Corporate water abuse has to be addressed or no other measures will matter. The perception in California right now is it's no secret any longer that drought is linked with climate change. And there has been no effort to curtail the industries that are using the most water, which are coincidentally the industries that are also sending out the most emissions that are fueling the climate crisis.