Manteca municipal bureaucrats like to point with pride of the city being farsighted enough to secure surface water supplies to blend with well water to support an ultimate population base of between 130,000 and 150,000 people.
After all, any yahoo can drill a well — at least for a few more years anyway before the state brings the hammer down on groundwater management.
There’s just one problem with the city’s narrative that they are brilliant when it comes to securing scarce surface water supplies. It isn’t exactly true.
Not only did the South San Joaquin Irrigation District first advance the idea of delivering water to Manteca and other nearby cities but they practically had to beg Manteca’s top bureaucrats to consider the possibility.
It’s not the SSJID was desperate for “businesses” given how their prudent development and management of water resources for 108 years has them sitting on unrestricted reserves of over $50 million. They saw how increased efficiencies in water use by agriculture was going to free up water supplies they controlled. Rather than cut a deal to send what would eventually end up being permanent excess water south to Los Angeles and other areas they wanted to make sure surface water rights secured by district taxpayers — including those in Manteca — were used in the district and county first.
Bob Adams — the city manager at the time — didn’t think the SSJID had any value. Nor did key department heads. After all, Manteca had no problem drilling wells and sucking up water from the ground.
But the SSJID — and particularly the late Nick DeGroot who was an irrigation district board member and almond grower in rural north Manteca — understood the dangerous fallacy of the municipal staff’s smug position. The SSJID, unlike Manteca’s bureaucrats, is all about water whether it is securing it, protecting it, storing it, delivering it, treating it, or harnessing it to generate electricity.
So the SSJID made their case to the people that mattered — the five elected council members at the time. The council opted not to be blinded by the self-proclaimed brilliance of former staff that they were the water experts. The council looked at the numbers. They looked at the fact Manteca owed its birth not just to SSJID’s foresight in delivering treated water to the area in 1914 that led to the town literally being created but decades of prosperity that followed. They also took into consideration the city’s partnership with SSJID to use irrigation canals for storm runoff that had drastically reduced Manteca costs in that area.
And as long time Manteca residents they knew of previous droughts and how salt water intrusion from beneath the Delta was creating issues in Tracy and Lathrop plus during periods of drought was creating issues with domestic wells east of Manteca that were shallower than the city’s.
Had the experts on Manteca’s municipal staff prevailed, the city would be in a much more dire shape today due to the drought as more water would have to come from the ground.
They also would not be able to avoid expensive arsenic treatment as they have by blending treated surface water with municipal water to reduce the arsenic concentration down to levels deemed safe by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
So after 98 years of Manteca benefitting significantly with its partnership with SSJID due to that agency’s superior knowledge and vision when it comes to water supply and management concerns, municipal staff wants to kick SSJID to the curb and develop its own groundwater management plan as mandated by the state.
Remember this is the same lean and mean city staff that has taken 13 years to deliver a simple dog park. No disrespect to the city staff on this one, but the expertise is clearly in SSJID’s court.
They also have some numbers than can work very well to the city’s advantage as well as that of Ripon and Escalon. The ultimate mandate prohibits a groundwater management area from pumping more water from a basin in a given year than they put back.
The city can try to inject treated wastewater all they want but they won’t come close to SSJID’s numbers. The district imports 230,000 acre feet of surface water into its boundaries. Of that, 90,000 acres have been tracked as recharging the water basin that the City of Manteca relies on through flood irrigation, canal seepage and normal farm uses.
That’s a huge number thanks to imported water that would bode well for Manteca’s future ability to tap groundwater.
As for the contentions of the folks at the Civic Center that the city would have less control as part of an SSJID, Escalon and Ripon groundwater consortium, Manteca is the 900-pound gorilla. Four of the five SSJID directors can’t get elected without the support of the majority of voters in their specific districts that reside in Manteca.
To recap why it is complete insanity for Manteca not to continue partnering with the SSJID in all things water: SSJID has 108 years of proven history of doing right by Manteca and protecting water sources and rights. SSJID has the water experts. SSJID is focused on water and not water, dog parks, growth, the 100 block of North Main Street and its bulb outs, and everything else a city worries about. And SSJID has the resources — financial and otherwise — to deliver the best groundwater management program possible.
What they don’t have is out-of-control ego.