News Feature | May 11, 2017

Wastewater-To-Agriculture Project Is First Of Its Kind

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Water recycling for agricultural use is about to get a major boost through a massive reuse project in California that marks some first-evers.

“Starting as early as December, [Modesto] will sell its highly treated wastewater to struggling nearby farmers. When it’s up and running, Modesto’s experiment should be California’s largest wastewater-to-agriculture reuse project, and it will mark the first time recycled water flows through a federal canal,” Grist recently reported.

“The project will take tertiary-treated sewage from the cities of Modesto, Turlock and Ceres and route it through new pipelines into the Delta Mendota Canal, owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. From there, it will be purchased by Del Puerto Water District to irrigate crops on some 200 family farms along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley,” News Deeply explained.

The project, known as the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program, is the “single largest recycled water conveyance project in the country and the first water project for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the owner and operator of the Delta-Mendota Canal,” the Turlock Journal reported. The effort will bring waste-to-farm techniques to some of the nation’s most productive farmland.

“The $90 million project broke ground [last] August. When completed, it could deliver more than 50,000 acre-feet (62m cubic meters) of recycled water annually to farms and wildlife habitat in a notoriously dry region,” News Deeply reported.

A combination of city politics and water politics have made it difficult to get this project off the ground.

“Nearby water suppliers criticized and challenged the proposal to reroute water, fearing it might affect their own supplies. Documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request show that the water district pushing the plan had to delicately negotiate compromises to coax the project forward, in some cases offering other districts a cut of their water,” Grist reported.

The project ultimately required extensive deal making between officials in various cities.

“To quiet the complaints from nearby water districts, Modesto agreed not to use any water from the Turlock Irrigation District or the Turlock Subbasin to irrigate its ranchlands. And the Del Puerto Water District brokered a deal to deliver 500 acre-feet per year to Westlands after the North Valley project kicks off,” the report said.

Anthea Hansen, head of the Del Puerto Water District, pulled the project together.

“We figure out how to work through the complicated system in California to get the water moved from point A to point B,” she said. “It’s very difficult, it’s fraught with heavy levels of environmental documentation and a lot of cost to make it work, but it helps us to survive.”

To read more about water recycling projects visit Water Online’s Water Reuse Solutions Center.