News Feature | August 4, 2015

Urban Wastewater For Sale As Drought Solution

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

California farmers struggling to irrigate their crops are considering a new strategy: buying urban wastewater.

Anthea Hansen was among the first to jump on this idea. She runs the Del Puerto Water District in the Central Valley, California’s hub for farmers, which has been seeking out new sources of water. Del Puerto lost access to a supply from the federal Central Valley Project because “drought and fish protections reduced the allotment to zero this year and last,” The Modesto Bee reported.

“Growers with permanent crops and who rely largely on surface-water deliveries are basically in survival mode," Hansen said, per the Sierra Sun Times.

“Hansen has been buying water on the open market, but prices have gone through the roof. What her district needs, she says, is a reliable supply — something that's there, drought or no drought,” Jefferson Public Radio reported.

Hansen decided to work with the wastewater treatment plant in Modesto, CA, which is conveniently located near some of the state’s driest agricultural territories.

The plant is upgrading its equipment to make its water cleaner, adding new ultraviolet disinfection technology. That’s part of a $150 million upgrade “to meet new water quality requirements. It won't be drinking-water quality, but according to state standards, it will be clean enough to use on crops,” the radio report said.

Will Wong, the engineering division manager for Modesto, oversees engineering and capital planning and projects for all water resources and utilities infrastructure.

When Modesto floated the idea of making treated wastewater available to outside entities, "Del Puerto Water District raised their hand, as quickly as we brought the question up,” Wong said, per the radio report.

Modesto would normally dump up to 14 million gallons of treated wastewater into a river each day, according to the report.

For more on the latest innovations for overcoming drought, visit Water Online’s Water Scarcity Solutions Center.