State

Cities to review river water

Four city councils will get an update Wednesday evening on a proposal to supplement wells with treated Tuolumne River water.

Officials in Modesto, Ceres, Turlock and Hughson have been looking into the project for several years but are treading carefully because of what it might do to water bills.

The 22 council members will get an overview of the planning and financial issues while meeting in Ceres, but they will not vote on anything.

The plant, proposed for where the river crosses Geer Road, would treat water provided by the Turlock Irrigation District.

The plant would boost the water supply for homes and businesses south of the river, including south Modesto and the other three cities. The rest of Modesto has had a treated river supply from a Modesto Irrigation District plant for 15 years, along with wells.

Water managers say the proposed plant would cushion the cities from increasingly strict health standards for groundwater. The reduced pumping could allow the aquifers to recharge with water.

"It would be to their major benefit to have surface water added to their portfolio of supplies for economic development, quality of life and sustainability," said Nick Pinhey, director of utility planning and projects for Modesto.

The cost was estimated at $183 million in February 2009. The cities would share the cost based on water use, but they also could seek grants.

The Turlock council expressed concern about the cost at a November meeting. After hearing that the typical bill for a city resident could reach $97 a month by 2014-15, members asked that other options be considered.

Ceres raised its water rates substantially last year to pay for upgrading the system, but that did not include the river plant.

The cities could look to state and federal sources for some of the funding, Pinhey said. He added that part of the cost will be covered by connection fees from new homes and businesses.

Dan Madden, municipal services director for Turlock, said the four cities soon could draft the water management plan required for some of the grants.

The cities have spent about $6 million for the preliminary design and an environmental impact report, Pinhey said.

If the project moves forward, detailed design could be done by 2012 and construction could finish in 2014 or 2015, he said.

The MID plant was more affordable because the costs were spread over a larger number of customers. An expansion of the plant is nearly done.

Wednesday's meeting will be at 6 p.m. at the Ceres Community Center, 2701 Fourth St.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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