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Monterey Park water deal nears final approval

Stanislaus County officials are the last ones who must sign onto an agreement for the city to supply drinking water to a small rural enclave of the Monterey Park Tract in a rural area southwest of Ceres.

City Councilmembers approved a Memorandum of Understanding in 2013 that officially kick started the process. The county is expected to approve the deal, said Ceres City Manager Toby Wells. The matter would then come back to the City Council for final approval and then the project goes out to bid. He expects the work of laying the pipework to start in spring.

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.

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.

The MOU 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, he said.

The grant also pays for a connection fee charged by the city of Ceres.

The MOU has been approved by the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors and the Monterey Park Tract CSD.

The rural subdivision was created in 1941 with 89 parcels off of Monte Vista Avenue between Crows Landing and Carpenter roads. It was served by a Community Services District since 1984, currently using water pumped from a ground well. The district was formed because the individual wells that served the area were shut down for problems with nitrates. One well is in service now but the CSD board is concerned that the local ground water supply is not meeting state water quality standards. Residents have to drink and cook with bottled water because of high arsenic content.

Ceres will supply up to 60,000 gallons of water per day for use through a pipeline to be built. 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.

Wells said the city would charge 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 tract residents who now pay approximately $75 per month but there are no other options. Rates will climb to about $95 per month on Ceres city water.