The Turlock City Council convened for a special meeting Friday afternoon and unanimously approved to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Modesto, Del Puerto Water District, and the Department of the Interior in order to have more input during the environmental review process for the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program.
A draft of the Environmental Impact Report has been prepared for the water project, but had the City not become a cooperating agency through the MOU it would not have had access to the documents until it was released to the general public, explained Director of Municipal Services Michael Cooke. So far, 16 comments from different agencies have been received regarding the draft EIR and now the City of Turlock will be able to participate in the discussion to ensure information it submitted is being used accurately.
"It doesn't bind the City to anything legally or financially or limit the city's independent authority. It's really a way to share documents and information," Cooke explained of the agreement.
Noting that Joint Powers Agreements are difficult to dissolve, Mayor Gary Soiseth asked how difficult it would be to exit the cooperative agency agreement if the City changed its mind down the road. Cooke said the agreement exists as long as the EIR is prepared and the adoption of the document has no binding influence over the City.
"The council is not committed to anything today other than the study of that feasibility," said Cooke. "If they don't want to do this project they can walk away from it. It won't cost them a dime, other than what they've spent which is about a half-a-million dollars so far in feasibility studies."
The concept of the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program dates back to the 1990's when the City of Turlock began investigating alternative ways to discharge its waste water. Anticipating more stringent water quality restrictions for the San Joaquin River where the water presently is disposed, the City conducted an environmental review in 1996 and found that transporting water eastward was not feasible. A 2002 study showed that building a drain to discharge the water westward was attainable and construction of the $20 million project commenced in 2008. The drain was completed in 2015 at a total cost of $20 million, $15 of which the City received from the State of California.
"Our goal is to stop discharging to the river in the next three to five years to avoid increasingly stringent discharge requirements," said Cooke.
Purification measures for the San Joaquin River like ultraviolet disinfection could cost the city upwards of $20 million dollars if it does not find an alternative.
For a number of years the City has been working with the City of Modesto and Del Puerto Water District to study the feasibility of extending the pipeline under the San Joaquin River roughly six miles to discharge waste water into the Delta Mendota Canal, a federal facility.
"It's never been done before in the United States, so we've been going through a number of feasibility analyses and one of those steps is the environmental analysis," explained Cooke.
Now that the City has built its westward pipeline, if it were to not utilize it the City would have to pay back the $15 million to the State that it used to build the pipeline. While the project has raised interest as the Turlock Irrigation District expressed interest in keeping the water locally for its growers, Cooke said he is hopeful the City will be able to work out an agreement that satisfies all agencies involved.
"We still think the best alternative is to go west while also working with local partners, like Turlock Irrigation District, to find a way to get the water we have in the City Limits of Turlock and provide that to the irrigation district," said Cooke.