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Officials break ground on historic recycled water project
recycled water pic
Members of the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Project and local dignitaries, including Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra, second from left, Rep. Jeff Denham and county Supervisor Jim DeMartini, broke ground on Friday on the first phase of the project that will see recycled water conveyed from Ceres, Turlock and Modesto to the Delta-Mendota Canal for agricultural use by Del Puerto Water District. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Ceres and Turlock's recycled wastewater will soon be put to good use irrigating fields in the Del Puerto Water District as officials broke ground Friday on the single largest recycled water conveyance project in the country and the first of such water projects for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the owner and operator of the Delta-Mendota Canal.

The North Valley Recycled Water Project will see recycled water conveyed from Ceres, Turlock and Modesto through the construction of a pump station and pipelines to the Delta-Mendota Canal for agricultural use by Del Puerto Water District and for wildlife refuges by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

"This is an exciting day for the partners in the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program," said Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth.

"This fulfills a long term desire for the cities of Turlock and Modesto to remove their treated wastewater from the San Joaquin River and to put it to beneficial use. Better yet, we have a partner in Del Puerto Water District who will use this water in Stanislaus County to improve our regional water supply and expand our local economy," continued Soiseth.

Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra was in attendance at the event as well since some of Ceres treated effluent is piped to the Turlock plant for disposal.

"It's our wastewater, that's why we have been involved in it," said Mayor Vierra, "but we don't have a sales agreement with Del Puerto. We've been involved with all the discussions and planning from Day One."

Modesto has a separate agreement and separate line to pipe treated sewer water - claimed to be filtered to make it better, in some cases, than domestic water - to the west side.

The groundbreaking launched the first phase of the project, connecting the Delta-Mendota Canal via pipeline to Modesto.

The second phase will be the construction of a six-mile pipeline that will convey Ceres' and Turlock's recycled water to Modesto's Wastewater Treatment Plant on Jennings Road. At Jennings Road, Turlock's recycled water will enter into the Modesto pipeline and be pumped to the Delta-Mendota Canal.

Initially, Turlock will provide about 10,000 acre-feet of recycled water. In May, the Turlock City Council approved an agreement that requires the Del Puerto Water District paying Turlock $175 per acre-foot for recycled wastewater over the next 40 years.

The water sale agreement, and its steady stream of revenue, allows the city of Turlock to apply for a low-interest loan from the State Water Resources Control Board in order to pay for Turlock's part in the design and construction of the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program.

This agreement not only helps the farmers in the western part of the county who have experienced significant water shortages over the past seven years, it also helps Turlock. Currently, the wastewater of both Ceres and Turlock is discharged into the San Joaquin River, a tributary to the Delta and an impaired water body under the Clean Water Act. Turlock, and thus Ceres, are subjected to increasing wastewater treatment costs and regulations, like a provision that requires the installation of a new ultra violet light disinfection system - at an estimated cost of $15 million not including electricity and labor - by 2019.

The recycled water project will remove the city's wastewater from the San Joaquin River and pump it to the westside through the Harding Drain Bypass (installed in 2014) and into the Delta-Mendota Canal.

The total cost of the project is expected to be approximately $100 million, with Turlock's share being $30 to 34 million.

The city is working with the State Water Resources Board and other partners on financing Turlock's portion of the project, according to Soiseth. If all goes to plan, construction on the Turlock pipeline will begin spring 2017 and the city will be sending water to the Delta Mendota Canal in the summer of 2018.

"As mayor, I know that we need regional solutions to regional problems. The North Valley Project is an excellent example of urban and agricultural interests collaborating on a project of mutual benefit," said Soiseth.

Ceres Mayor Vierra said he learned that the water will also be used in the westside grasslands water district in the winter.

- Jeff Benziger contributed to this article.