Richland Communities would like to build at least 800 homes on 184 acres they bought for $8 million along with the Hat Mansion adjacent to Manteca’s southeast city limits.
There’s just one problem: There’s no water source to serve the homes.
A proposal floated before the South San Joaquin Irrigation District board a few years back to transfer the “water rights” to irrigate vineyards on the land was meet with an extremely cold shoulder even though urban water use would be basically the same as for a vineyard. But the SSJID board wasn’t thrilled about setting such a precedent that could snowball into other requests to rapidly urbanize other areas within its jurisdiction.
That led to another feeler from Richland to essentially free up existing potable water use in Manteca by financing purple pipeline to deliver recycled wastewater to large irrigation users such as possibly the golf course, school playing fields, parks, and other large landscaped areas.
The concept can’t be explored as a potential option until the city completes work on its recycled wastewater masterplan. The document would allow city policies and objectives. It would also lay the foundation to determine how much drinking water could be freed up and what it would cost to extend purple pipe to serve identified areas where recycled water could be used for irrigation.
City Manager Karen McLaughlin confirmed the city staff has steadfastly refused to certify that the 184 acres can be served by existing municipal water sources.
The land is not covered in the city’s water masterplan.
The plan takes the available sources of water such as the city’s ultimate share of South San Joaquin irrigation District water from the South County Surface Water Treatment and groundwater. Since the city’s water feasibility masterplan was put in place, the state has mandated groundwater basins must be balanced which means water can’t be pumped out that isn’t replenished.
That mean’s Richland — or any other property owner — will have a hard time advancing an additional municipal well as a way to serve future development.
The city’s water masterplan doesn’t view groundwater as a bottomless glass to draw from. It also took into account the impact drought years would have on the supply.
“That (taking droughts into consideration) was done long before we entered the current drought,” McLaughlin said.
If property was not identified as being serviceable when developed as part of the water masterplan, it has to have a separate water feasibility study conducted.
That study for the Richland project has said there is no water to serve it.
McLaughlin noted the city is simply performing its role of being good stewards of water as required under state law.
The Richland proposal — once the wastewater recycling plan is done — opens a way to secure new sources of potable water by essentially having developers pay to make it possible for non-potable water to free up drinking water.
Given that landscaping irrigation accounts for the bulk of Manteca’s municipal water use with watering lawns accounting for as much as 40 percent of the overall use of water, that means the 7 million gallons of wastewater now being treated on an average day at the treatment plan t could be freed up for growth. That volume reflects roughly 90,000 people served in Manteca and Lathrop by the East Yosemite Avenue treatment plant. Part of Lathrop’s population is served by treatment plans within their community.
In theory if all recycled wastewater were harnessed, Manteca could serve upwards to 90,000 more people beyond the roughly 120,000 plus people that the second phase of the surface water treatment plant operated by SSJID will ultimately provide.
It should be noted such population numbers are based on per capita household uses. An industry that needs large amounts of water such as food processing would reduce the ultimate population of Manteca could support.
The groundwater mandate by the state also will make it difficult for water to be exported from a groudnwat3er basin to another. That would leave recharging the water table, using recycled wastewater within the city for irrigation of landscaping, or selling it for farm use as the only viable options.
McLaughlin stressed that a possible council discussion on a policy regarding the potential of allowing developers to free up existing drinking water used for irrigation purposes by paying for purple pipe infrastructure be done until such time as the wastewater recycling master plan is adopted.
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