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Westside farmers could benefit from wastewater recycling
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Where wastewater flows, food could grow.

The Turlock City Council made water the primary topic of conversation for their Tuesday evening meeting, entertaining a proposal to enter into an agreement to explore the use of treated wastewater for irrigation.

Support was unanimous for the proposed North Valley Regional Recycled Water Project – which would pipe treated wastewater from the Cities of Turlock and Modesto to the water-starved farmers of Westside’s Del Puerto Irrigation District – but Council members had concerns over the governance of the partnership.

“The infrastructure and the costs and the allocation of costs are easy,” said Modesto Vice Mayor Brad Hawn, who was present to represent the City of Modesto. “It’s always about governance.”

Both Turlock Vice Mayor Kurt Spycher and Councilman Ted Howze expressed concern that the project may be governed with each participant having an equal vote. As Turlock will be supplying the majority of the project’s water – about 13 million gallons per day, compared to Modesto’s approximately 3 million gallons per day – both Council members hoped to have a greater say in the project’s governance.

“Water is going to be the most valuable commodity in this Valley,” Howze said. “It’s going to be more valuable than gasoline some day.

“This has to be a weighted vote so we don’t become the StanCOG of water,” Howze continued, citing past regional projects that disproportionately benefit smaller cities due to the one vote per city system employed by the Stanislaus County Council of Governments.

As the partnership could evolve into a regional water purveyance system, both for wastewater and surface water, Turlock representatives wanted to be sure they retained as much control as possible.

Hawn balked at the change, suggesting that a fight over governance could derail the project, which has already garnered attention for federal funding. Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-CA 18th) is currently working to move forward a $25 million appropriation bill this year to get the project started, despite the lack of a completed project study.

“A lot of people see it as a very good project for reelection,” Spycher said.

Given the election year, a delay could jeopardize funding. In order to ensure there are no hang-ups, the City of Modesto Tuesday approved $100,000 in funding for the feasibility study, while the Del Puerto Irrigation District agreed to spend $25,000. That expenditure may be reimbursed with federal funding. The City of Turlock will not contribute to the feasibility study at this time.

The westside’s 45,000-acre Del Puerto Irrigation District parallels the Delta-Mendota Canal and is completely reliant on federal Central Valley Project water. In recent years, the district has seen their water allocations become completely unreliable due to restrictions on pumping water through the Delta, dropping to as low as 5 percent of requested flows this year.

The regional effort would provide farmers in the Del Puerto Irrigation District with as much as 31,000 acre-feet of water each year and generate $35 million in annual income for Del Puerto farmers.

The estimated $180 million project could potentially includes federal funding for the City of Turlock’s planned $27 million Harding Drain Bypass pipeline, which has long been seen as a necessary improvement to the city’s wastewater treatment system to discharge treated wastewater directly into the San Joaquin River. Turlock would also earn a nominal fee for selling the water to needy farmers.

“The biggest reason I like it is not so much to get federal funds,” Hawn. “This is a problem here in our area, ad this is one of the first times we’re going to solve one of our problems ourselves.”

“I do want that federal money and I want as much of it as we can get,” said Councilwoman Mary Jackson.

“It’s tainted, but we’ll take it,” Spycher said.

The Turlock City Council agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with the involved parties that will allow the project to move forward, though no conclusion was reached on the governance issue.

“This MoU is saying yes, we’re willing to dance, and that’s about it,” Hawn said.
“We’re not at the altar yet.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.