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Water quality a concern of city
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The drought experienced in California could affect the city of Ceres' ability to continue providing water that meets state water quality standards.

City officials updated the City Council on the water issue Monday and explained why they not concerned but not panicky about the local water picture.

Acting City Manager/City Engineer/Public Works Director Toby Wells said he is more concerned with water quality issues than water quantity issues.

"As far as risks go related to this drought, I'm still concerned more so with water quality issues than I am in our quantity issues," said Wells during a council Study Session. "The water quality issues from the state are a far bigger risk to us at the current time."

City Deputy Director of Public Works Jeremy Damas offered a Power Point presentation to show how the city is meeting the water demands of 45,000 residents served through 11,500 service connections. Ceres presently has groundwater as its only source of municipal water.
Damas said Ceres residents have done well in conserving water since peak use hit 262 gallons per capita per day in 2007. Today, that number has dropped to 154.

Conservation increased in Ceres when meters were installed on all connections and residents are able to see water use on an hourly basis. The state of the art meter system and website portal even allows residents to be alerted if rapid usage is detected that could indicate a leak, such as a below-ground pipe break.

"We've helped residents stop leaks of 12 to 15 gallons per minute," said Damas. "An open garden hose is about 12 gallons per minute and they might have a broken faucet that they don't even know about."

The city will be getting out the word at the Street Faire in an attempt to get more households signed up to monitor their water use.

While Ceres has seen static water table levels remain fairly consistent, Damas said he is concerned that those levels have not risen since conservation measures.

"We're really steady," said Damas, noting that the water level usually stays at 60 feet below the surface. Areas like Turlock have seen a 20 foot "swing."

"What's interesting about this is our gallons per capita per day have dropped 40 percent yet this slide stays flat," said Damas. "This is one of our concerns, you know, because we're using less water and the theory is that a static water table should be rising. It's not. So that's one of the things that we're monitoring."

Because the groundwater table under Ceres is recharged by flood irrigation, Damas said it will be interesting to see what happens now that Turlock Irrigation District has scaled back water allotments from 34 to 38 inches for the season to 20 inches.

"They just took away half the water that is was being used to replenish."

City officials fear the city could experience problems if the existing wells fail to meet water quality standards and need to be shut down. If water table levels start dropping, the blending of the stratas is not available, Damas explained. Already, some wells are on the verge of being turned off because of excessive arsenic levels.

"As you start dropping water, the blending mechanism in the strata isn't there," said Damas. "That's where our concerns are. Out of the 14 wells in service, 11 of them are rated 50 percent of the maximum contaminant level for arsenic right now. We're really on the edge for about three of them right now."

The state's edging up on quality standards has hurt cities. For example, he said when the state increased the maximum allowable arsenic contaminants from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion, the action impacted all cities in the Valley.

He noted that the city has also been able to keep up with treating one westside well where uranium levels have been a problem.

The city has a drought strategic plan that calls for limited outdoor watering in the event of a stage 2 and no outdoor watering for a stage 3 level.

Damas said the city is also looking into wellhead treatment options as well as exploring new well sites should water quality diminish.