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Ceres: river supply a must
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Ceres city officials renewed their pledge to pursue a surface water project with Turlock in wake of the news that Modesto is expected to pull out because it doesn't really need the water.

City Manager Toby Wells said Ceres is still very much interested in pursuing construction of the plant on the Tuolumne River west of the Geer Road Bridge. That water would be filtered and piped to Ceres and Turlock homes to supplement groundwater supplies.

"We are committed to moving the project forward ... as quickly as possible," said Wells at Monday's City Council meeting.

The Modesto City Council was expected to back out of the project at Tuesday evening's meeting held after this issue went to press.

Modesto was only looking at the water to service south Modesto, explained Wells, because the thinking decades ago was that the water could not be piped to north of the river. In the meantime, Modesto built a surface water plant at the Modesto Reservoir east of Waterford.

Wells expressed hope that other partners - like Hughson and Keyes - will join in to be guaranteed a dependable water supply for years to come. Hughson originally was a part of the study but also backed out. He said he will try to convince Hughson that the costs will be worth it when faced with the prospect of not having enough water in years to come.

"Getting another source of water for the city is critically important," said Wells.

Using river water makes sense given that ever tightening regulations on water quality and drought scenarios could threaten cities' abilities to provide good clean drinking water.

Modesto's exit means the plant will need to be resized before final costs can be determined. Overall expenses go down, Wells noted, but are then shared between the entities.

At an October government forum, Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra said the costs of the plant are unknown but could cause Ceres' water rates to go up $60 to $70 per month higher, depending on how many cities get involved.

The plant would be built under a joint powers authority called the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority. After 30 years of talk the SRWA recently got the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors to agree to a Water Sales Agreement that will sell river water for domestic use to the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority.

The agreement has a 50-year term, is limited to a maximum of 30,000 acre-feet of transfer water to SRWA per year, and will be priced at TID's Tier 4 Irrigation Water Rate.

The key provision of the final negotiated agreement involves TID transferring surface water to SRWA. In less-than-normal irrigation water years, SRWA would provide "offset water" to TID, which would be a mix of recycled water and non-potable well water.

This "offset water" is to balance the reduced Tuolumne River water available to TID irrigators that comes as a result of the surface water transfer to SRWA.
Multiple actions still need to be taken before the construction and operation of a SRWA water treatment plant to service the three cities with domestic water. The first of which involves the cities getting approval to finance the project. Other actions involve various elements of permitting, design and construction.

Negotiations between TID and the cities have been intermittent since a drinking water project was envisioned by TID almost 30 years ago. In 2001, TID constructed an infiltration gallery on the Tuolumne River downstream of the Geer Road Bridge to divert river water to a future water treatment plant. In 2011, SRWA was formed to negotiate a water supply agreement with TID.

The overall project would provide benefits across a variety of water users and beneficial uses, including assisting SRWA cities to better meet their water demand, provide in-lieu groundwater recharge for agriculture and urban users, providing additional fishery and aquatic benefits to the Tuolumne River, allowing for TID (obtaining access to recycled water) and SRWA cities (access to surface water) to diversify their water supply portfolios.