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RI keeps water while Manteca may sell water
Dennis Wyatt

Allan Chapman has an astute understanding of California water.

Ironically, he happens to live 5,300 miles away from the Delta that serves as ground zero of the water wars that have been raging non-stop for the past 170 years.

He directs Somerston Group that has been around almost as long as California’s water wars. One of the company’s wholly owned subsidiaries is Cambay Group. They were the developers of the 11,000-home Dougherty Valley project in San Ramon and are now building the 11,000-home River Islands at Lathrop planned community.

Judging by the firm’s track record Chapman understands the rewards and challenges of long term investment that requires vision, commitment, flexibility, and building a solid foundation.

To sustain and grow communities, that foundation at its core must address water not just for the present and short range but for the long range. Nowhere is that as essential as in California where the water is moved aggressively from basins blessed with snow and rain to naturally arid areas where growth is taking place.

Chapman, perhaps more than any other investor in California’s future, gets that it is an absolute to address and secure all aspects of water from making sure it will flow through faucets and taking steps to control it when there is an overabundance.

While the epic 300-foot wide super levees Cambay eventually built to protect River Islands from flooding were just what the bureaucrats ordered but made impossible for the project to obtain the necessary federal and state permits to build, his team found a way in the artery clogging reams of bureaucratic regulations to get the work done.

The firm’s long range thinking on water for drinking and landscaping is even more impressive. Those that tried to derail Dougherty Valley thought Cambay couldn’t come up with water under fairly new state requirements at the time that developments of a certain size prove they have secured water.

Cambay Group bought rights to agricultural water in a pioneering deal. They secured water for River Islands as well but they didn’t leave the future to chance.

While they tapped high groundwater that is non-potable and river water to irrigate common landscaping as well as help regulate water levels in the lakes created through the  building of the super levees, they knew that might not end up being enough given California’s water wars.

So the project incorporated recycled wastewater to inject into the purple pipe system that also employs the non-portable high groundwater. It will be used to irrigate parks, common landscaping, and the shrubs and trees in the mow strips that are found in front of all homes on River Islands. There already are more than 50,000 shrubs and trees in place and the community isn’t even 10 percent done.

Three weeks ago the state granted clearance for River Islands to start using reclaimed water for landscape irrigation. River Islands expects to start adding it to the mix within two months

River Islands made one other key move. Given that more than half of a valley community’s water consumption is outdoors, they developed yards and common landscaping to minimize the use of water.

Across the San Joaquin River in Manteca, reclaimed wastewater is being looked at as a way to make a quick buck in the short-term.

A private sector water broker has been given the green light to study how Manteca could sell 6 million gallons of treated wastewater a day, what infrastructure would be needed to do that, and to find a buyer. All of this is being done on the broker’s dime because there is a huge pay day in water sales in this state — especially long-term contracts. The Manteca City Council would have the final say. But if it moves forward all costs to make it happen plus a cut to the broker would come off the top. The city would make money but it will be loose change compared to the $4 million cost each time a new well is drilled or the expense of expanding surface water treatment plant capacity. 

Then there is the question of the state’s groundwater use mandate and its bid to seize 350,000 more acre feet from the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne rivers that likely will impact Manteca’s surface water supply even in wet years.

Meanwhile Manteca is requiring developers to put in purple pipe to ferry recycled water to irrigate landscaping and parks. One of the city’s selling points on spending $8 million on infrastructure that included a gravity flow sewer main under the 120 Bypass on the east side of the property Great Wolf is developing is that the existing forced sewer main can eventually be cleaned and converted to carrying treated wastewater to a wide swath of Manteca south of the 120 Bypass for landscape and park irrigation.

Keep in mind 50 percent plus of expensive treated drinking water irrigates grass and that new wells and surface water treatment plant capacity aren’t cheap.

Yet the city is studying selling reclaimed wastewater without a parallel study on future water costs for growth or taking into account two serious threats to our supply — the state’s groundwater directive or the plan to seize water for additional fish flows from the Stanislaus River watershed Manteca relies on.

The Allan Chapmans of the world know what Manteca is pondering is shortsighted at best and extremely reckless at worst.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.