Work is nearly half complete down Crows Landing Road to install a five-mile water line that will bring city water from Ceres to the small Monterey Park Tract community southwest of Ceres.
The work was kicked off by a groundbreaking event on Jan. 19 that included a performance by the Central Valley High School band.
"This small community of about 40 houses has struggled with water quality for years," said County Supervisor Jim DeMartini. "They've had nitrate problems, uranium, and there's no money to fix the infrastructure there."
City officials were approached several years ago by the Monterey Park Tract Community Services District about the possibility of the city of Ceres piping water to the rural neighborhood where groundwater has been too contaminated by federal and state drinking water standards.
Through the help of Self Help Enterprises, Monterey Park Tract secured a $2.2 million grant from the state of California under Proposition 84 that pays for the pipeline and other equipment necessary to deliver water from the Ceres water system.
A Memorandum of Understanding inked by the Monterey Park Tract Community Services District, the city and county calls for Stanislaus County to serve as the "backstop" to keep Ceres from any potential financial losses if Monterey Park Tract CSD fails to reimburse Ceres for the water it uses. The district has a $75,000 reserve to help insure that Ceres is Monterey Park tract has difficulties paying its bills. The city has made it clear that the tract's water supply will be shut off for non-payment of water service if the county fails to step in and cover their costs. In the event that the CSD fails to make payments to Ceres, Wells said the county will have the power to say whether the water is turned off or if the county pays the bills.
The agreement has been worded that would give the agencies time before financial hardships are encountered. The $75,000 reserve would handle three years' worth of payments, said City Manager Toby Wells.
The grant also pays for a connection fee charged by the city of Ceres as well as a 100,000-gallon storage tank and pump station.
Ceres will supply up to 60,000 gallons of water per day for use through the pipeline. That water volume would allow the 44-home subdivision to add up to 11 more homes for lots already approved for development.
The city will bill Monterey Park Tract for water service at a rate one and half times what Ceres residents pay, or $1,800 per month based on average use of 700,000 gallons per month. If 60,000 per day if used, the tract would pay $4,300 per month. It's up to the district to bill each individual household.
Wells said the city is charging a connection fee of $7,628 for each of the 50 homes. It would also charge a connection on about 10 undeveloped lots, with the money kept aside as a cushion to cover problems that arise, including inability to pay for the service.
Water service will be costly to residents who now pay approximately $75 per month but there are no other options. Rates may climb to about $95 per month on Ceres water.
"The unknown component for the district is rate change for their residents for their existing system plus the city water costs included," said Well. "It is the district's responsibility to set the rates through the normal Prop 218 process. The $95 was an estimate that we created based on their usage at the time when we started the conversation a few years ago."