The following is an Op-Ed written by Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth.
Last July, while campaigning for mayor I went door-to-door to share my vision for a stronger, bolder Turlock. As I listened to residents talk about concerns of unreliable drinking water during consecutive years of a drought, it was clear we needed an alternate source of water. Turlock couldn’t continue to exclusively pump groundwater without limitation.
One year later, it’s in this historic fourth year of drought that we find a historic solution to our water needs. After 26 years of negotiations with the Turlock Irrigation District (TID) to secure drinking water from the Tuolumne River, the cities of Ceres, Modesto and Turlock have finally come together to unanimously agree to a surface water agreement that will annually yield up to 30,000 acre feet of drinking water for decades to come.
This gives Turlock an ability to diversify our water portfolio and create a sustainable, long-term plan that allows for groundwater recharge in wetter years. By lessening Turlock’s need to pump groundwater—and leveraging this new access to river water—the water table will likely increase. For proof, look no further than the Modesto Subbasin, where groundwater levels have risen more than 40 feet in the two decades since a similar surface water plant was established.
This agreement’s goal was not only to bring positive impacts to the cities, but to make sure these impacts didn’t come at the cost of our surrounding farms. One key provision in the agreement is to provide a combination of recycled water and non-drinkable well water for agricultural purposes when farmers are allocated less water. Turlock specifically will use 2,000 acre feet of recycled water each year to meet this goal. This non-drinkable water keeps even more water within the Turlock Subbasin by way of groundwater recharge and supports minimizing impacts to TID’s irrigation customers’ water supplies.
To balance future water deliveries for farms and households in times of drought, the agreement calls for equal sacrifice. With a future increase in groundwater recharge over the years, however, the cities will have a reserve of water to draw from during extended dry periods.
As with all negotiations, concessions have been made by all three cities and TID. And as with all large projects, this agreement is only the first step of many to get the project funded, constructed and operational. However, this is a crucial step, a huge milestone that has taken nearly three decades to reach.
Throughout these decades of tedious—and often spirited—negotiations, the cities and TID remained focused and interested in benefiting not only their own customers and constituents but the greater region as well.
This agreement demonstrates that partnerships among water agencies and cities will become crucial as ongoing and emerging water challenges begin to stress our region’s resources. We’re proving to our state’s regulators that local control produces the best solutions. And Ceres, Modesto, Turlock and TID leaders remain committed to solving regional water needs with a regional solution.
I was proud to personally watch all five TID Directors vote in favor of this agreement, and I proudly casted my own vote alongside Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra and Modesto Councilman Bill Zoslocki to advance this historic project. The era of endless groundwater might be over, but a new era of drinking water reliability has begun.