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Damas gives overview of Ceres water issues
Public Works director speaks to water quality and quantity
Jeremy Damas
Jeremy Damas, the city of Ceres Public Works Director, gave the Ceres City Council an update last week on various aspects of the city water system, including the Surface Water Treatment Plant and delivery system. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Public Works Department Director Jeremy Damas gave councilmembers an overview last week of several issues affecting water service in the city of Ceres.

He started with an update of the city's efforts to build a surface water treatment plant and delivery system with the city of Turlock. Together the cities have formed a Joint Powers Authority to form the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority and paying water from Turlock Irrigation District, which has water rights in the Tuolumne River.

Water will be extracted from the Tuolumne River near the Fox Grove Fishing Access and piped to both cities. Ceres plans to blend the treated water with groundwater.

"The project is moving quite swiftly, actually," Damas told the council.

Water samples are being taken to determine what kind of filtration system to build with the JPA narrowing down 8 to 10 treatment systems down to two. The plant is about half designed.

"We've had lengthy discussions about funding and rates," said Damas.

The Ceres system will include the construction of a large pipeline down Hatch Road to a yet-to-be-constructed two million-gallon storage tank on the eastern side of Ceres River Bluff Regional Park north of Hatch Road.

Planning the piping route is involved because it involves consideration of rights-of-way, roads and railroad tracks.

Mayor Chris Vierra reported that the city will need to raise monthly water rates as a necessity for a "more reliable and better water supply system."

"It's an interesting project and we're hoping to move it as quickly as we can but nothing moves faster than a snail's pace when it comes to projects like these," said Vierra.

Damas gave an update on the city's actions after passage of the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Ceres is part of the newly-formed JPA for the West Turlock Sub-basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency.

The next goal is for the Technical Advisory Committee to develop a plan to detail the extraction of water across the entire basin.

"As you can imagine, 14 agencies all applying for that water is going to be interesting," said Damas.

Conservation efforts have paid off in less water being pumped out of the ground, he said. In 2016, the city was using 1.9 million gallons per day compared to 3.8 million gallons in 2007, representing a 49 percent reduction.

He addressed water quality, which has suffered through the drought. With 12 wells in service, five are not being used because of excessive levels of arsenic and nitrate. Starting in January 2018 the state will be requiring cities to quarterly monitor for Trichloropropane (TCP). Based on first samples, five wells will exceed the new standards, which affects 43 percent of supply. Three wells contain detectable levels of DBCP, or dibromochloropropane, a soil fumigant formerly used in agriculture. In mammals it causes male sterility at high levels of exposure. The state's standard is no more than .2 parts per million with Ceres samples running .1 or .5. The most feasible treatment for both TCP and DBCP is granular activated carbon.

Damas said one of the other constituents the city is also dealing with are haloacetic acids and trihalomethanes, which are disinfection byproducts of chlorine treatment. The elements have been linked to an increased risk for developing cancers.

The city has been chlorinating the water now five years, said Damas, with no issues with HAA5s and TTHMs.

"What's interesting is since 2016 our haloacetic acid numbers have increased tremendously," said Damas. "We don't have a carbon source so we're having a really hard time trying to figure out why we're having this issue."

Consultants and Modesto Irrigation District is helping the city with solutions.

On hydrostatic water levels, Damas reported that in 2016, the static water level underground was 64 feet and in 2001 it was 64. In 2008 there was a dent with increased pumping. The pumping water level was 117 feet. In 2016 the elevation was 157 feet.

"There's a lot to be said about these issues that we're having with water quality ... due to the pumping levels."

On state-mandated conservation mandates, Damas said Gov. Jerry Brown declared the drought over on April 7. But he said after showing statistics on the groundwater table, Damas said "the drought is not over."

"It's going to take us a few years to get this back. This just didn't happen overnight. This is going to be years to get that 157 back to 120 feet. Until then we need to develop and/or look to the future with the surface water program for a consistent, reliable water source."

He updated the council on city water conservation efforts. Damas reported that for the first time since state water conservation efforts were imposed, March water use numbers climbed three percent. However, the city still is meeting the state mandated conservation target levels.

"We've come to a point where there aren't any more decreases," said Damas. "Every month has always been a reduction. We've always said that at some point it's going to level out. Well, it's looking like it's starting to level out."

He noted that there has been a 171 percent participation in the conservation rebate program since 2013, mostly because city staff if going out door-to-door to reach out with information. Damas said it's been hard to engage the community as only 17 percent of Ceres households has signed up for the free web portal to monitor water use. The portal can notify residents of water leaks or high consumption.

The city would like to improve interest in the turf replacement rebate program. Since the program was put in place the city has issued 47 rebates, the average being to remove 1,200 square feet of grass. The city offers only $1 per square foot up to 500 square feet. Damas said he would like to see the council increase that amount.

To qualify for a rebate, the city must approve of the dryscape design to take the place of grass with a combination of bark or stone and drought-tolerant plants.

"We don't want an open front yard," said Damas.