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City halfway in paying off debt to TID
Surface water project expected by 2020
Ceres residents could be drinking filtered Tuolumne River water, seen here at Fox Grove, as early as 2015.

The city of Ceres has cut its second in a series of four checks to the Turlock Irrigation District to pay for preliminary engineering work as plans proceed to build a regional surface water plant and delivery system.

Ceres is being billed four installments of $529,691 to reimburse TID for design and initial environmental studies done up to this point on the project. The work will be the basis on additional design work that must be completed before the plant is constructed, probably between 2015 and 2020.

TID's bill of $2.12 million to the city is being covered by rate hikes already approved by the city.

Original plans called for TID to build the plant and lease it back to the partnering cities. However, TID expressed interest in only selling the water for a plant to be designed and constructed by a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) formed by the cities of Ceres, Modesto and Turlock.

The city of Hughson decided not to participate in the project because of its costs. The plant and pipe delivery system is projected to cost $151 million. Since Ceres gets 22 percent of the share of water, it will have to pay 22 percent of construction costs, or $33.2 million. Those costs will no doubt be passed onto residents through the form of higher monthly water rates. The plant could result in another rate hike to $8 to $15 per month to the recently approved rate hike schedule.

Ceres, Modesto and Turlock believe drawing water from the Tuolumne River - somewhere near Fox Grove Fishing Access - and filtering it will prove to be a salvation when regulations make it harder for ground water to meet standards for drinking water. Treating water at the well site is extremely expensive and river water is surprisingly cleaner and requires less filtration, he said.

"At the end of the day it provides us with a much more reliable and dependable water source," said Ceres City Engineer Toby Wells.

When the plant goes on line, Ceres and the two other cities plan to blend both treated river water with well water for home use. Ceres will be able to take six million gallons per day from the plant but currently uses 12 million per day.

Wells said the JPA is actively meeting and will be working out a strategy and costs.