TID, Turlock Moving Forward in Negotiations for Surface Water Plant

TurlockCityNews.com|

After nearly 27 years of planning, the Turlock Irrigation District will soon begin formal negotiations to sell water to the City of Turlock, potentially leading to the development of a surface water treatment plant.

On Tuesday, the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors will consider formally appointing Casey Hashimoto, the General Manager of the Turlock Irrigation District, to negotiate the long-term transfer of water to the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority.

“TID believes it is in the best interest of the region and our mutual customers to build a surface water treatment facility to supply drinking water to the cities of Ceres, Modesto and Turlock and any neighboring communities who wish to participate,” a TID staff report on the measure reads.

The SRWA is a joint powers authority, consisting of members from the Cities of Turlock, Ceres, and South Modesto. All three cities would receive treated drinking water from the proposed surface water treatment plant.

The plant, which has been in planning since 1987, would treat TID-owned Tuolumne River water to create roughly at least 30,000 gallons of drinking water. The plant would be located near the Fox Grove fishing access, where Geer Road crosses the Tuolumne River.

Constructing a surface water treatment plant would guarantee a long-term water supply for the City of Turlock. The city is currently reliant on a dwindling groundwater basin for all of its drinking water needs, with many wells failing to meet state quality standards.

But the plant would be very expensive, with Turlock's portion of the plant costing nearly $100 million to construct. The city would also owe an additional $2.5 million in annual operating costs.

The City of Turlock would need to raise water rates well beyond the rate increase approved Tuesday, which will see the average household’s monthly bill reach $47 in 2019. To fund a surface water treatment plant, Turlockers could see bills averaging $96.25 per month by 2023, according to a City of Turlock study. High-usage households could pay $163.10 per month.

Hashimoto would be authorized to negotiate a price for the water, terms of payment, the availability and amount of water to be transferred, the length of an agreement, and other related matters.

The SWRA has previously stated it would like to secure a 50 year agreement with TID, buying water at irrigation rates – roughly $20 per acre-foot to start, rising over time to reflect TID’s rate increases to irrigators. By comparison, the Modesto Irrigation District's abandoned plan to sell water to San Francisco would have charged $700 per acre-foot.

The SWRA would like to purchase between 30,000 and 41,480 acre-feet of water per year, enough to provide between 49 and 53 percent of the cities’ drinking water. That purchase would be subject to the same rules as other TID customers; if the government cuts back TID’s total available water, or the year is dry, the cities would take a proportional cut.

Wastewater Purchase Also on TID Agenda

The sheer quantity of water worried TID directors previously. They asked the SRWA to find some mitigation measures to help the district gain additional water, offsetting the sale.

"Our system is pretty tight right now,” said TID Director Rob Santos at a November meeting. “But I think if we can mitigate for that loss, we can make it a win-win situation.”

Later Tuesday, in closed session, TID directors will discuss one of those mitigation measures: a long-term purchase of recycled water from Turlock’s wastewater treatment plant.

The Turlock wastewater plant releases about 30,000 acre-feet of treated water annually, roughly equivalent to the amount of water the SRWA wants to purchase from TID. The water is of high enough quality to irrigate plants or release to a river, but may not be used immediately as drinking water.

The City of Turlock was set to sell that treated wastewater to westside Stanislaus County’s Del Puerto Water District, in a five-year deal worth $3 million. But Turlock pulled out at the last minute in December after TID inquired about the water, potentially making it a tipping point in negotiations.

The Del Puerto Water District, which spent much time and money negotiating the water transfer, has voiced its concern.

“The water has already been identified and committed to by my board and the landowners of the Del Puerto Water District,” Anthea Hansen, Interim General Manager of the Del Puerto Water District, said to the TID Board of Directors in February. “… Please abandon these efforts to derail our partnership with the city.”

There are still hurdles to TID using the water. The water is generated over the course of a year – not just during irrigation season. And Turlock sits near the bottom of the TID system, making the water useless to the majority of district customers without expensive pumping systems.

Most negotiations for the wastewater have been conducted in private. But during the Turlock Government Night, Turlock Mayor John Lazar said that the city is still talking to both districts to find a solution.

“We are working to see if there's an opportunity to share water, not only with Del Puerto but with TID,” Lazar said. 

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