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Ceres game for regional sewer
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Ceres and Modesto city officials are teaming up on a study which could lead to a regional wastewater treatment plant system.

Just as Modesto City Council members did on Wednesday, the Ceres City Council on Monday approved an agreement to split the costs of a study to regionalize sewer options. Ceres' share is $50,000.

Currently Ceres' wastewater is treated by a system involving three cities. Since the 1970s, the flows north of Hatch Road are being sent to the Modesto treatment plant near Dryden Golf Course, then pumped to a Jennings Road plant for secondary treatment. The rest of the city flows to the Ceres wastewater plant at Morgan and Service roads. The treated water from that plant is then piped to the Turlock plant for disposal.

"There are several advantages for regionalizing the wastewater system that make it worthy of further analysis," said Glenn Gebhardt, interim Development Services Director/City Engineer. Those advantages include:

• Meeting the state's goal of regionalizing sewer plants;

• Being more eligible for grant funding;

• Greater cost savings for treatment, operations and maintenance;

• Increased opportunities to reuse recycled wastewater;

• A more effective "voice" for addressing regulatory issues.

The study, funded from sewer fees, will provide Ceres and Modesto with the actual costs of a joint facility as well as the best way to govern the operations. Mayor Anthony Cannella said that the joint system could be governed by a joint powers authority (JPA).

At the Aug. 5 Modesto City Council meeting, Pamela Creedon of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board said that neighboring cities are encouraged to tackle sewer issues on a regional basis. She noted that many jurisdictions are reluctant to do so for fear of losing control over operations and rates. But she noted that Ceres and Modesto officials seem to be off to a great start.

Cannella said currently the city of Ceres is vulnerable to the rates that Modesto wants to charge for handling North Ceres wastewater. But he said a JPA would create a situation "where we would all be protected. We would have a seat at the table instead of Modesto telling us what to do."

Modesto is spending $450 million to expand its Jennings Road plant to a tertiary treatment system that will produce water clean enough to drink, said Cannella. He said the billion gallons of wastewater Ceres produces annually could be put to good use.

"We could sell it to Southern Califonria or irrigate with it," said Cannella. "Water is precious so I think the billion gallons of water we use up could, if my calculations are accurate, irrigate 3,000 acres. There's some areas in the Valley that don't have any water."

Cannella said the 12-month study should also answer if sewer services would be cheaper going in with Modesto.

"We think we can do better working together and this study will either prove that or disprove that," he said. "We've got our toe in the water and now we're going to go waist deep."

The mayor said Ceres is not pressed for a solution right away, saying that Turlock has guaranteed Ceres capacity to double its maximum outflow of 1 millon gallons per day. He said the decision to go with the Turlock option in the 1990s may have been shortsightedly made because Ceres was facing a building moratorium at the time and felt pressure to act.

"Turlock can give us sewage disposal for the next decade. We feel there are longer term solutions that could benefit the city of Ceres. We could have a solution for sewer that is 50 years in the future not 10 or 15 years."