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Manteca needs to get farmers on board now for recycled water

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POSTED June 5, 2014 1:03 a.m.

How do the folks on the space station orbiting earth right now get fresh drinking water?

How is the landscaping at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco so lush and how do they have the water they need to keep waterfalls flowing year round?

How does Orange County recharge a sizable chunk of its underground water supplies?

And how does a growing segment of California’s edible food crops get the water they need?

You don’t have to look farther than your kitchen sink drain, your washing machine or your toilet. 

Over 700,000 acres of wastewater treated yearly at municipal plants are sent to farmland, parks, golf courses, freeway landscaping, groundwater recharge basins, industrial use and stream bed restoration throughout California each year.

Not one person has gotten sick despite the practice being traced back as far as 1932 when San Francisco installed the McQueen Treatment Plant to irrigate Golden Gate Park landscaping.

Manteca has been using recycled wastewater to grow alfalfa and corn for dairy cattle for close to 20 years.

Manteca with no additional treatment can use its recycled water for parks and freeway landscaping. With little or no additional treatment based on stringent state standards, it can be used for orchards and vineyards. Adding an additional step allows it to be applied to edible parts of a plant such as roots – think carrots and potatoes.

Manteca in the fiscal year starting July 1 is planning to develop a master plan for the use of recycled water beyond its current use on fodder crops for dairy cows.

That said, Manteca shouldn’t waste a penny hiring the specialized consultants and conducting exhaustive studies needed to put the plan in place if elected leaders don’t have the political will to proceed.

There are legitimate questions about salt levels in recycled water although the state has very nicely muddied that one up by pondering rules that would require cities discharging treated water into the Delta to have lower salt levels than what is in nature.

At first glance you’d think that it  is nuts since saltwater is part of the mix in the Delta since it drains to San Francisco Bay. But tighter water cleansing standards are being pushed by Southern California that siphons water out of the Delta via the  California Aqueduct. The more Manteca residents spend to get salt out of the water the less Los Angeles residents have to spend.

The concerns of rural Manteca residents are legitimate. Salt can kill crops and render wells useless. California, just like with everything else, has the toughest wastewater recycling standards in the nation if not on the planet. If additional treatment is needed, the state will make that clear. No water is discharged from treatment plants or even moved from one facility to another whether it is a dam or a holding pond without Sacramento’s approval.

Currently there are 250 wastewater recycling operations  permitted statewide. They are recycling close to 800,000 acre feet a year for agricultural use to account for roughly a third of the recycled water that is reused.

The latest to go on line was last month in  the City of Healdsburg. Water starved farmers are using tankers to transport water from a purple recycled water hydrant at the city’s treatment plant to apply to vineyards. The city can provide up to 25,000 acres of state-approved recycled water for agricultural irrigation.

Closer to home Modesto and Turlock are working on a joint effort to  provide up to 59,000 acre feet of water a year for agricultural irrigation and other uses to the Del Puerto Water District. The project is expected to come on line in 2016.

Manteca is ideally situated to provide the beneficial use of recycled water to farmland given the huge concentration of orchards and vineyards. That’s not to say it can’t be used on other crops but it is clear that it is more than safe for orchards and vineyards.

The city years ago received clearance to use  treated wastewater to irrigate the Big League Dreams sports complex and landscaping at the Stadium Retail Center. They opted not to do so because they worried about costs – it was cheaper to put in  a shallow non-potable water to take care of the needs of the two complexes.

The bottom line was the volume of water that would be used would not justify the cost. And while the city has talked about freeway landscaping which makes sense as well as extending purple pipe into new developments south of the 120 Bypass such as the 1,700-plus home Trails of Manteca moving forward on  the western end of Woodward Avenue, the volume isn’t there.

It is why the City Council would be wise from the outset of the recycled water use master plan study to actively engage the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau, area farmers and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.

Recycled wastewater can be used safely especially under California’s stringent standards.

But even more important is Manteca needs to have the potential end users on board from the beginning so they don’t spend money spinning their wheels.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.

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