Precisely one week after the Turlock Irrigation District’s weekly meeting that left the City of Turlock and the District at odds over the use of local water, the TID Board of Directors made their way to the City’s Water Quality Control Facility to take a firsthand look at how local sewer water is treated to become irrigation water.
“TID has interest in using this water to augment irrigation needs. We’re developing a comprehensive general plan that involves conserving water in Turlock and we’re in the preliminary stages,” said Director Rob Santos of TID.
TID directors stepped out of their usual conference room on Tuesday and donned hard hats during their public meeting to tour the City’s facility that processes 10 million gallons of water a day on average. Functioning at 50 percent capacity, the Turlock Water Quality Control Facility treats the amount of water equivalent to that of a town of 400,000 largely due to the local industrial complexes that produce a significant amount of waste.
“We use 1.2 kilowatts of power a month. We’re one of your biggest customers,” said Dan Madden, City utilities specialist and former municipal services director who played tour guide to the Directors on Tuesday.
The facility, which costs $26,000 dollars a day to operate, treats water through a four step process before dispersing the recycled water to several different locations, including: 100,000 gallons to irrigate Pedretti Park; 2 million gallons to operate the Walnut Energy Center; and the rest flowing to the San Joaquin River via the Harding Bypass, a wastewater outfall pipeline that allows the City to sidestep TID’s Harding Drain which it previously utilized. According to Madden, the City is in the process of establishing rights to San Joaquin River water.
Water rights in general has been the topic of much debate at the state and local level in recent months, especially since TID staff first appeared at a City Council meeting in January requesting that the City postpone its decision to approve a water transfer agreement between the City and the Del Puerto Water District. The agreement would see a 13,000-acre foot annual transfer of Turlock’s tertiary treated recycled water under a five-year agreement to the district that serves approximately 45,000 acres between Vernalis and Santa Nella. Del Puerto is one of the smaller water districts within the drought-stricken valley depending on the State Water Project, which reported a zero percent allocation for its serviced communities this year.
In June, the City Council decided to move forward with the next stage of the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Project, the roughly $100 million project that will help provide a reliable water supply to Del Puerto Water District through the Harding Drain Bypass to the Delta-Mendota Canal.
The Board of Directors’ tour of the City’s Water Quality Control Facility was precipitated by the Directors’ unanimous decision on Tuesday to approve a resolution that proposes curtailing the amount of water it transfers from the Tuolumne River to the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority, which is comprised of the cities of Turlock, Ceres and Modesto, based on the District's overall water year. TID's resolution calls on the SRWA to find other sources for water during dry years.
TID has since recommended that the City, one of several cities in the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority, use recycled water — the same water promised to Del Puerto — to offset the reduction from the Tuolumne River in dry years.That water, however, has "already been spoken for," in the words of Del Puerto Water District General Manager Anthea Hansen.
At Tuesday's meeting, Turlock Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke explained to the TID Board why the Del Puerto water deal was the only viable option the City had to meet state water board loan agreements that have a January 2015 deadline.
"You've contended that more recycled water should be used in the [Turlock] basin, I understand this situation, but it fails to take into account current realities, specifically the terms of the City's permit ...to operate the wastewater treatment plant and the terms of our loan agreement with the state water board that we used funding to construct the Harding Drain Bypass project," Cooke said.
According to Cooke, the City has not entered into a formal commitment with the Del Puerto Water District just yet but having worked with the District for the past four years, at this point the City is in a “good faith agreement.”
The Directors’ tour of the City’s waste water treatment facility is one way that the Board is demonstrating an interest in finding resourceful ways to mitigate damage caused by the drought in the past year as well as plan for the future.
“On Tuesday TID said that in return for providing water to us, they would require that in dry years the City offset water use for farmers by providing additional water supplies to ‘make them whole’. They have expressed an interest in recycled water,” said Cooke.
According to Assistant General Manager of Water Resources Tou Her, the tour of the City’s facility allowed the directors’ a further in depth look at the increasingly priceless commodity: water.
“Our desire is to utilize all water resources as responsibly as possible for future use, whether that is surface, ground, or recycled water. TID has a desire and efforts to look at all of the different ways to provide sustainable water and it is certainly beneficial for us to understand this process of how sewer water becomes recycled water,” said Her.
TID’s desire to utilize water resources is not unique in that cities, agencies, farmers, and politicians across the state are fighting to determine to whom water belongs. However, according to the City’s waste water treatment plant Senior Operator John Bettencourt, the main objective is to keep the water flowing.
“Everyone wants our water. It’s a huge issue especially since the drought. Farmers want it, TID wants to call it their water, there are a lot of politics,” said Bettencourt. “They can fight over it but as long as we’re making clean, effluent water at the end of the day we’re good.”