The road to securing a reliable source of drinking water for local residents has been long and bumpy, but on Friday the effort reached a milestone. The Stanislaus Regional Water Authority, made up of the Cities of Turlock and Ceres — and in partnership with the Turlock Irrigation District — broke ground on the site of the future surface water treatment plant which will deliver treated Tuolumne River water to homes by 2022.
“Today is an exciting and important milestone for the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority. Today’s event marks the culmination of decades of hard and sometimes challenging work. Upon completion of the surface water treatment facility, up to 30,000-acre feet of treated surface water will be delivered to the cities of Ceres, Turlock and potentially others. I’m sure we’re all aware of the importance of water in the state of California, and in the United States for that matter. That is why this project is so critical for our region,” said SRWA Board Chair and Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra.
The project was also touted as an example of how agencies can come together to solve regional problems.
“Today’s groundbreaking marks the most recent, but certainly not the last, great achievement of the partnership between TID and the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority. This partnership shows that our region values the health of the Tuolumne River and those who rely upon it. And lastly, it’s a partnership that tells the state we have the collective resolve to respond to regional needs with regional solutions. Above and beyond the concerns of droughts and floods, new water challenges will continue to stress our water resources. As these challenges increase, it will be partnerships like the one between TID and the Cities of Turlock and Ceres that will bridge our reach together to ensure our long-term welfare and way of life,” said TID Board President Charles Fernandes.
The idea of a river water treatment plant has been more than 30 years in the making, with the origins of the project dating back to 1987.
While discussions between TID and the cities have been intermittent, the water district constructed an infiltration gallery on the Tuolumne River downstream of the Geer Road Bridge in 2001 to divert river water to a future water treatment plant.
The City of Turlock approved the first Drinking Water Agreement in October 2005, followed by Ceres, Hughson, Modesto and Keyes. Three years later, TID purchased the water treatment facility site, which is a 49-acre parcel close to the river, and in 2011, the cities of Turlock, Ceres and Modesto formed the SRWA in order to negotiate a water supply agreement with TID.
In 2015, the City of Modesto decided to end its partnership in the project. That same year, TID and SRWA approved the terms and conditions of a Water Sales Agreement, which detailed how TID would provide Tuolumne River water for domestic use to the members of the agency. The agreement is a 50-year term and is limited to a maximum of 30,000 acre-feet of transfer water to SRWA per year.
Upon completion the raw water pump station, located near the Fox Grove Park in Hughson, will be connected to a delivery pipeline that will carry water to the water treatment plant, which will filter water through a point of delivery that will then meter the water out to Turlock and Ceres through transmission pipes.
Along with the cities of Modesto, Hughson and Keyes bowing out, the project has also seen other struggles.
Many residents of Turlock and Ceres protested their respective increase in water rates adopted in 2017. Construction of the plant is expected to cost approximately $288 million, with Turlock paying $182 million and Ceres $100 million. To cover expenses, both cities needed to raise water rates.
The project also faces challenges with the State Water Resources Control Board’s Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan update, which calls for allocation of 40 percent of unimpaired flows along the lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries — the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers — to help rehabilitate the area’s native fish species.
“I talked to the State Water Board just the other day and I mentioned that they’re squeezing us in the fact that we’re 100 percent dependent on groundwater and eliminating any other alternative hurts us economically, hurts our home values. This is the stuff I talk about when I talk to residents and they get it, they understand how important this project is,” said Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth.
Despite the ongoing issues, the stakeholders present at Friday’s groundbreaking voiced their determination to see the project come to fruition.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in local politics for 20 years. And some day when I look back, I will be reminded that this surface water project was by far the most important and critical accomplishment undertaken and that will benefit tens of thousands of residents for decades to come,” said Vierra.