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Pressure on city to develop water, sewer master plans
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The city of Ceres is feeling pressure from the state to update its master plan for sewer and water services.

Members of the Ceres City Council spent time Jan. 12 probing the issue before deciding to delay a decision until Feb. 9. The item was continued until after the city holds a Jan. 26 protest hearing on water and sewer rate increases.

The city wants to increase rates on residents to make up the gap between revenue and the cost of supplying sewer and water services. It also will help fund the updating of both sewer and water master plans as required by the state.

The ballpark estimate is both master plans will each cost in excess of $300,000. Mayor Anthony Cannella wondered where the funds would come from and was told they will come from the yet-to-be-approved rate hike. The mayor was nervous about acting until he knows the outcome of the protest hearing.

Both master plans are seriously out of date, said Ken Craig, director of Community Development. He said the city's current sewer master plan is based on the land use assumptions based on the city's 1978 general plan and does not take into consideration 600 acres taken into the city since then. Without updated master plans, said Craig, "it is not possible to know what improvements are necessary to accommodate that growth.

"We are experiencing significant problems in accommodating new development as a result of a lack of coordination of land use and infrastructure planning," noted Craig.

The master plans will look at Ceres' current and future populations and determine what infrastructure needs to be constructed to supply services.

In recent years the city has drilled 31 wells but only eight are in operation because of water quality issues. The quality of groundwater has deteriorated in the last decade. Demand for water will only grow in time, said Phil Scott, the city's Public Works director.

Mayor Cannella, stating his belief that master plans are important tools for the city, grilled city staff about the updating of those plans and asked when they were due. Scott said originally he hoped to have the plans done in 2008.

Cannella also wondered why do a sewer master plan when Ceres and Modesto are now in talks about building a regional sewer plant.

"Do we want to pay a consultant to analyze our plant when we may totally change what we're doing with our sewer treatment?" asked Cannella.

Scott said the state Department of Water Resources requires the city to do a sewer system management plan and a plan for operations, capital improvement projects plan and capacity plan.

He also noted that the city should have enough of the sewer master plan done by August to satisfy the state's demands.

Cannella also wanted to know if the city could throw a cumbersome master planning process onto a new city engineer who started work yesterday. The city recently hired Glenn Gebhardt to fill the job. The interim city engineer position has been filled by Mike Britton. Craig suggested that Gabhardt is more than fully capable of taking both projects on.

The mayor was also curious what benefit the city received by recently hiring consultants West Yost & Associates and Eco:Logic. Eco:LOGIC Engineering completed a wastewater system capacity study. The study did not look at what is needed to accommodate future growth, however.