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Water plan states there's enough for sphere
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An urban water management plan was adopted by the City Council last week which looks at ways future water needs will be met as Ceres grows.

The plan looks at projected growth, water supplies on hand and need at build-out. It also looks at ways the city plans to comply with the state's Water Conservation Act (SB X7-7) mandate to curb water use by 10 percent by 2015 and 20 percent by 2020.

Water meters are the key factor of meeting conservation goals. Metering of water typically results in a 20 percent conservation since water is billed on usage, not a flat rate.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, all homes in Ceres will begin receiving water bills.

Jerry McConnell, a consultant with West Yost Associates, said the city has an "adequate supply" of groundwater but will need to look at exploring use of surface water "or another source" to meet demand at build-out.

Last year elected officials from across Stanislaus County agreed that while surface water is needed in the future, the cost was too high for consumers to stomach. The cities of Ceres, Hughson, Turlock, Modesto, and the Turlock Irrigation District looked at a $197 million project to take water from the Tuolumne River near Fox Grove, chlorinate it and prepare it for human consumption. Ceres' share would have amounted to about $49 million, plus millions a year in ongoing expenses, in exchange for 10 million gallons of water each day. The project would have tripled water rates in Ceres.

The decision to postpone such a plant will likely have to come later when cities have no other choice.

Most cities in the Valley rely solely on groundwater, pumping drinking water from aquifers. However, as Nick Pinhey, Modesto's director of Utility Planning and Projects, said: "It's not an endless supply. In order for it to be sustainable you need to have water going into the ground to replace the water you take out of the wells."

Increasingly strict state regulations on groundwater contaminants, regulating the allowable amount of arsenic, and a steadily declining water table have reduced the effectiveness of local wells. In the city of Hughson, three of the five city wells were inoperable last year due to elevated arsenic levels.

By using mainly water from the surface plant, relying only on groundwater for peak summer usage, officials hope that the aquifers could be recharged. Water could then be banked in the aquifer for dry years, allowing for conjunctive use between the two water sources.

The management plan compelled resident Len Shepherd to tell the council to reconsider approving housing subdivisions.

"Now we know where we are and what we need to do to get there," said Mayor Chris Vierra.

Cities which do not have a water management plan are not eligible for funds to help achieve water supply goals, he added.

In other action, the council accepted the installation of water meters as complete In May 2010 the city contracted with Measurement Control Systems to install 10,937 water meters and radio transmitters throughout Ceres for a total price of $544,025. The work was completed in February only the actual number of meters was 10,505 with a price of $679,975. The costs rose when installers found that many home required plumbing to be cut on service lines deeper than two feet or deeper in dirt.

Triton Technologies was paid $304,480 to oversee the installation, including auditing sites for needs, helping the city pick the best product and system, prepare bids, and export billing data over to the new billing system.