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Manteca, firm working to resolve issues surrounding wastewater from washing bell peppers for pizzas
The Eckert’s facility on Moffat Boulevard.

The new 500-room Great Wolf indoor waterpark resort now under construction and the city’s proposed family entertainment zone being pursued on land attached to the municipal wastewater treatment plant is threatening the viability of one of Manteca’s oldest employers.

Eckert’s — a firm that is the world’s largest processor of bell peppers with pizza chains as their primary clients — has a packing facility on Moffat Boulevard adjacent to Manteca High’s football field. The firm’s second processing plant is on McHenry Avenue in Escalon. At peak operations Eckert’s employs as many as 350 people in Manteca processing bell peppers.

For more than a dozen years the city has been taking water that Eckert’s uses to wash the peppers prior to process and disposing it on land where the family entertainment zone and Great Wolf are now being pursued after mixing it with treated effluent from  the wastewater treatment plant.

Now with land being taken away from the spray fields where the water has been used applied to the ground, the ability of the city to handle the Eckert’s ag water is in jeopardy.

There is a solution in place that would alter the mythology of how the Eckert’s water is blended that has received verbal but not official written approval from state regulators. It would allow the water to be applied to the land using 50 acres, significantly less than has been used in the past.

The solution has several drawbacks.

Since there would be a reduction in blending with treated wastewater it decreases the city’ ability to manage odor from the Eckert’s water. Odor problems would be a big disaster given Manteca by mid-2020 will have its two biggest visitor attractions — Great Wolf and Big League Dreams — downwind from the disposal site. There hasn’t be an odor complaint that was proven to be connected with the treatment plant for years.

Eventually as the family entertainment zone builds out, disposing the Eckert’s water may become impossible to do.

That has led the city to identify two long-term solutions.

Dedicating a treatment unit for Eckert water that would allow it to be discharged to the San Joaquin River.

Eckert’s relocating its operations out of Manteca.

One option that had been explored — piping Eckert’s water to city-owned property south of Manteca on Hays Road that is being set aside as a permanent agricultural easement — would cost $4 million. Modifying treatment at the Manteca wastewater operation would cost $2.5 million. The question in both cases is who would pay for either option if they were to be pursued.

The Eckert’s pipeline to the treatment plant was arguably one of the most ingenious and profitable decisions ever to come from Manteca’s City Hall as a result of a threat from the state to pull the plug on the firm’s 350 private sector jobs some 19 years ago.

How the Eckert’s

pipeline and

disposal came about

allowing 1,853 homes

to be built in Manteca 

The food processing and cold storage operation on Moffat Boulevard in November of 2000 was sending 500,000 gallons of wastewater a day to the treatment plant from its process of washing red, green, and yellow bell peppers for processing. An inordinate amount of red peppers was playing havoc at the treatment plant prompting the city to exceed acceptable nitrate levels and creating a potential lethal situation for fish swimming near the city’s outlet for treated wastewater on the San Joaquin River.

The solution was to build a purple line from the Eckert’s plant down Moffat, along the Highway 120 Bypass to a point west of Airport Way and up to the wastewater treatment plant where the nitrate laden water would be disposed on surplus land for crops  that thrive off nitrates. Unless the city could reduce the nitrates, Eckert’s would be forced to close costing 350 Manteca private sector jobs. Eckert’s couldn’t afford the $1.2 million tab for the pipeline.

The housing boom was underway and sewer capacity was running out at the treatment plant. So developers — working in conjunction with city staff —  hatched a plan to have the capacity used by Eckert’s shifted to residential uses in exchange for developers fronting the $1.2 million to build the line plus give another $2.3 million in bonus bucks – development agreement fees paid in exchange for sewer allocation certainty. The water, basically harmless for land disposal, would no longer flow into the treatment plant.

Those bonus bucks made it possible to complete the Union Road fire station, build the skate park, and install traffic signals at two Tidewater crossings – one on Louise Avenue and the other on Northgate Drive.

It was viewed as a win-win situation with an overlay fee on new home construction that happened as a result of the additional capacity to pay $1.2 million to build the pipeline and a holding pond at the treatment plant.

It freed up plant capacity to accommodate 1,853 single family homes.

The pipeline wasn’t used for its intended purpose for almost seven years. The following year after the line was installed, Eckert’s reworked its process to pre-treat the water and reduce red peppers that were the cause of most of the problem.

The city moved forward with the project while awaiting state approval. It didn’t get the final OK to use the purple pipe until 2006.

Should Eckert’s not need the pipeline in the future, the city now has a backbone in place to transport treated water along the Highway 120 Bypass corridor for landscaping as well as to potentially put in place spurs to nearby heavy water users such as Woodward Park, the Spreckels BMX Park, as well as other parks and large expanses of lawn at schools.

The city at one pointed had a goal to use treated water to irrigate Big League Dreams sports complex and nearby shopping center landscaping. Purple pipe for that is also in place.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail