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Weatherford Woods may ultimately help Manteca sewer woes

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POSTED May 7, 2009 1:31 a.m.
Weeping willows take on more water than the Titanic.

They also create great wildlife habitats for birds and other creatures.

If Mayor Willie Weatherford has his druthers, they’d be some 200 acres of willow trees in a floodplain on the southwest part of the city. They would literally drink up treated wastewater while at the same time recharging the water tables allowing nature – via the trees – to remove nitrates and ammonia.

“Weatherford Woods” would address three problems at one time. It would restore wild lands. It would recharge the water table. And – equally important – it would avoid returning treated wastewater to the San Joaquin River.

Weatherford years ago correctly predicted – as if it required someone with expertise in water quality or clairvoyant skills – that even more tighter water quality standards were coming down the pike.

Like it or not, the goal of state and federal environmental agencies is to keep raising the bar until water going into the river is significantly cleaner than what flows by the outlet point for the Manteca wastewater treatment plant. You might be correct in saying the regulations are making things cleaner than in nature but the problem is the accumulative impact of water use – including transfers – throughout the state. Man has successfully manipulated Mother Nature’s plan and shifted abundant water supplies from where they are needed to parts of the state where water is in short supply. Along the way we either enhanced or degraded – depending upon your perspective - the Delta that existed over 125 years ago.

At the same time water storage – which translates into supplies – for domestic use aren’t exactly growing. It costs plenty of money to treat water for consumption and even more money to treat it before returning it to the river.

A typical Manteca household today pays $39.50 a month for city sewer service. It will go up to $43.30 at the start of 2010 and hit $51.25 by 2013.

If you think that rates are going to stay stable, go down or just go up at a reasonable pace after 2013 then I’ve got 20 shares of Washington Mutual stock I’ll sell you.

Manteca’s blessing – its location on the edge of southeast corner of the San Joaquin Delta in the heart of California – is also its curse.

Unless a tornado picks up Manteca and relocates it to somewhere over the rainbow, Manteca has to stop playing follow the leader and lead instead.

Manteca already has thought out of the box when it comes to reducing the use of expensive treated water to irrigate parks by switching to higher water tables that have non-potable water. It also has helped increase pressure.

At the same time, they are blending treated surface water with municipal wells where they can to substantially reduce the cost of complying with mercury concerns that materialized after the federal government further raised the bar by lowering the minuscule parts per million allowed in water that is for domestic consumption. As a side note, mercury is naturally occurring. It is just too much mercury over a long period of thing isn’t necessarily a good thing. The old standards were OK. The newer standards add a solid level of cushion. That is a good thing, but expensive.

Manteca needs to do everything it can to eventually avoid any discharge to the river. That means putting purple pipe in the ground to irrigate the golf course and other large expanses of grass even though it already has its own well.

Manteca needs to team with other cities – and perhaps its $89,000 a year lobbyist – to push for tough strict standards that will allow treated wastewater to be applied to crops regardless of what local ordinances say as sometimes county supervisors and legislators can get a bit politically squeamish.

There are crops grown elsewhere that use treated wastewater. Silicon chips – that need extremely clean water – have been made using recycled treated wastewater.

There are literally thousands of acres of orchards where the water might be a perfect marriage as it would reduce the need to add nitrates and ammonia – two components of fertilizer. Alfalfa that is consumed by livestock is already grown using treated wastewater at the Manteca plant site.

Manteca needs to be proactive instead of waiting for the next blow to be delivered.

It can save us money, save the environment, and save water.
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