Water in Manteca in many locations has gone soft over the past six years.
The softest locations by the fact they are right off the pipeline that runs down Lathrop Road are Del Webb at Woodbridge and Union Ranch.
That’s because they were receiving essentially unimpeded flow of surface water piped from some 16 miles away from the Nick DeGroot South County Surface Water Treatment Plant operated by South San Joaquin Irrigation District.
Up until then, every faucet in Manteca had water flowing through it that was pumped from underground sources. Well water has varying degrees of hardness that depends upon the conditions of the rock formations in each specific locale.
In 2009 a division of Uncle Sam’s standing army of bureaucrats - the Environmental Protection Agency-issued new marching orders to local jurisdictions that supplied water for human consumption. They decreed that federal arsenic levels needed to be tightened to make sure no sickness occurred from the mineral that is a staple found within most well water and rarely is found in surface water.
Prolonged ingestion of arsenic at sufficient concentrations over an extended period of time has been documented to include cancer of the bladder, lungs, skins, nasal passages, liver, and prostrate. It can also lead to dislocation of the skin, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in the hands and feet, paralysis, and blindness.
All of Manteca’s 17 municipal wells surpassed the previous federal standards. But when the EPA slashed the acceptable federal standard for arsenic by 80 percent down to 10 parts per billion in terms of volume, 12 wells were just barely out of compliance.
It should be noted that in the 90 plus years Manteca has operated a water system using well water there has not been one documented health issue involve water and arsenic related sickness regardless of age or level of frailty,
Surface water tends to not only be cleaner but it is also more reliable over the extreme long haul and also more expensive. Manteca went with a hybrid system that called for almost no well water use in winter months and having all wells going to meet the demand when the heat rises. That helped keep the cost of the treated water down.
The city was faced with a $22 million tab to install package arsenic treatment plants at all 12 of the wells that went out of compliance once new standards were issued. But that is just the tip of the financial iceberg. Those package arsenic treatment plants have media that is essential to their operation that has to be replaced every two years at a current cost of $100,000 per plant. That represented a $1.2 million increased cost of operations over the course of every two years. That would force the typical water bill to jump at least $20 a year for Manteca households in order to pay for just the media.
Manteca looked at ways of reducing that cost to minimize the impact of the federal requirement on individual pocketbooks.
One was to combine three wells by piping water to one location where it would flow through one arsenic treatment plant on Moffat Boulevard. None of the other wells were situated or located close enough to make doubling up cost effective. Five wells, though, were within close enough access to the surface water pipeline that sufficient surface water could be mixed with well water to bring the arsenic levels under the new federal threshold.
Instead of a need for 17 separate arsenic treatment plants, it was reduced down to just seven locations. That means in terms of today’s dollars, Manteca water users will avoid just over $10 million in reoccurring costs every 10 years.
Not only did out-of-the-box thinking by city workers slash the initial cost down from $22 million to just under $14 million but ongoing maintenance costs were also cut by close to $1 million a year.
It is debatable whether the EPA change was a question of being extremely cautious instead of simply cautious. Regardless, cities had no say in the matter. They had to comply.
The fact city workers who were on top their game coupled with one farmer - Nick DeGroot - that served on the SSJID board and never stopped pushing for cities to work together to access district surface water and treat it Manteca residents will have a secure and safe water supply as well as save a million dollars over the course of every year.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.