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Surface water plant, meters to affect local rates
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A contract to study water needs and how much to raise water rates in Ceres got a little more pricey last month.

Members of the Ceres City Council voted Sept. 8 to grant a change order in the city's contract with West Yost & Associates. The Davis consultant is studying the water rates and connection fees. The council agreed that $53,000 is justifiable since the firm is assessing the costs, capacities, timing and benefits of the proposed TID Surface Water Supply Project. The firm is also studying development impact fees.

The city expects to raise water rates in the near future. Rates have not been increased in quite a while and revenues are falling short, said Mike Brinton, the Interim City Engineer. Currently the city charges a flat rate of $15.30 per month to supply water to its approximately 42,000 residents. Non-residential users pay on a metered basis on a three-tiered system.

West Yost's study is examining rates as affected by state-mandated metering of water rates. Eventually the city plans to charge for water on a metered basis. But it remains to be seen if the city will charge metered water for only homes built since 1992 or all homes.

Since 1992, the city has been installing water meters on new residential construction but still charges a flat rate. State law is requiring that all customers must be metered and billed based on metered flow by 2025. To phase in the process, by 2010 all homes built prior to 1992 will need to be metered. The cost of complying with state metering laws will need to be included in setting the new water rates.

The state desires metering of rates since it leads to decreased water use.

The water study will also factor in Ceres' share of the costs of participating in the regional surface water plant being planned by the Turlock Irrigation District. Brinton explained that the firm needed to perform more engineering services because TID has changed plans for the size of the plant a number of times.

The city's participation in the TID surface water delivery system will dramatically drive up costs. It's been estimated that rates will probably triple from $15.30 to $42.09 when the project goes on line in 2012.

City officials say the system is expensive but necessary to provide a dependable source of water. Tightening state and federal water regulations are growing to the point that the city cannot solely rely on groundwater in the future.

Officials have been talking about a regional water plant since the 1980s when it became apparent that water aquifers under the Valley floor are both in limited supply and contain problems with contaminants.

According to Jeff Barton, TID's assistant general manager of civil engineering and water operations, TID now plans to build a regional surface water plant for Ceres, Hughson, Turlock and South Modesto. The project is expected to go out to bid in the spring of 2009 with construction running from summer of 2009 to 2012.

The plant will be constructed near the Fox Grove Fishing Access on the Tuolumne River northeast of Hughson. The plant will be sized to draw water out of the river at a rate of 34.5 million gallons per day, with an ultimate build out at 65 MGD. Some of the draw can be used to augment irrigation water and diverted into the Ceres Main Canal.

Ceres plans to take 11.5 mgd of the capacity, Turlock 15 MGD, Modesto 6 MGD, and Hughson 2 MGD.

Barton said that TID will construct the plant on a design-build basis and is seeking Requests for Proposals for three separate contracts: for the plant, the transmission system and the pump station. The numbers will be coming back in January. Contracts will be awarded in late spring, said Barton, after the cities have made a "definitive decision."

"They can still opt out and walk away if they don't like the numbers," said Barton.