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Modesto leaves Stanislaus Regional Water Authority
Turlock 'still committed' to surface water project
Tuolumne River pic
The Stanislaus Regional Water Authority's agreement with the Turlock Irrigation District will see surface water from the Tuolumne River treated for domestic use, reducing local cities' dependence on groundwater basins. - photo by Photo Contributed

The Cities of Turlock and Ceres will move forward with a project to build a surface water treatment plant, despite the third partner in the 30-year endeavor, the City of Modesto, deciding to opt out.

The Modesto City Council voted last week to remove itself from the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority, after a report from Modesto city staff found that it will be $35 million cheaper for the City to pump and transfer additional groundwater from Modesto to south Modesto rather than pay the cost to construct the downstream infrastructure required to distribute surface water from the proposed plant.

"I think it will be problematic for their subbasin," said Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth about Modesto's decision to use groundwater pumping for future water needs. "It's a fragile time to talk about increasing their pumping.

"Ceres and Turlock are committed to providing an alternative source of water regardless. We're exploring options to bring in smaller communities who could benefit."

In July, the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority accepted a water sales agreement with the Turlock Irrigation District to transfer surface water from the Tuolumne River. In turn, the cities will provide “offset water” to TID during dry or “less than normal” years. The offset water, which would be composed of a blend of recycled and non-drinkable well water, will serve to balance the reduced river water available to irrigators as a result of the transfer.

The 50-year agreement will provide up to 30,000 acre feet of transfer water to the SWRA annually and will be priced at TID’s Tier 4 Irrigation Rate of $20 per acre-foot.

Funding of the estimated $151 to $200 million project could include future water rate hikes.

Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra, long a proponent of securing the water while it's still available, said the rate hikes to pay for the plant will not be popular.

"People may hate me for this ... but I hope 50 years from now I hope they'll say ‘I am glad that guy had the foresight to get that water.' When faced with not having water — it's pretty painful for people right now — for me it's a really big deal to have this agreement. I've been pounding my head for four or five years," Vierra said in July.

The surface water treatment plant and delivery system could be five years away or longer. TID must go through the bureaucratic process at the state, which could take a year. The joint powers authority would have to undergo an 18- to 24-month environmental review process. The cities will have to seek approval from residents, under Prop. 218, to raise water rates in order to issue construction bonds. Then the JPA would be in a position to hire an engineering firm to draw up plans. Construction could take up to two years.