California farmers are not looking forward to a dry summer ahead, in turn leading to some the lowest water supplies in some time. Desperate farmers are getting creative in looking for new sources of water. One particular idea that is gaining much popularity is a plan to buy used wastewater from other cities by upgrading the Modesto Wastewater Plant. In the city of Modesto alone, citizens produces millions of gallons of wastewater a day through flushing toilets and running faucets. Modesto is very close by some of the driest agricultural areas in the state, so it seems like a plausible solution to those farmers in need of water for their crops. In a few years, that wastewater could flow to farms in the Del Puerto Water District, in what would be the largest urban-to-agriculture water recycling project in the state. Of course the water would be filtered for solids, and treated and disinfected using ultraviolet light. The water will not be up to drinking standards, but could mean the difference between a farmer’s success or failure for this year’s crops. The city’s wastewater treatment plant is undergoing a $150 million upgrade to meet new water quality requirements. They are calling it the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program. The Del Puerto Water District would construct a six-mile, $100 million pipeline to carry the wastewater from the city to the Delta Mendota Canal, which would then disperse into the district’s farms.
The project would end up costing some farmers about five times as much as usual, but to most, it’s a no-brainer. As of right now, citizens are having to purchase water on the open market. Jim Jasper, who owns Stewart & Jasper Orchards says “Most farmers are internal optimists and I like to be optimistic, but without something like this, the future for my son and grandson and family I don’t know if we can keep our business going.”
Heather Cooley of the Pacific Institute says, “There’s absolutely more potential for recycled water use in California.” According to her analysis, California could be using two to three times more recycled water for many purposes, including urban landscape and golf course irrigation. In coastal cities, it can be very beneficial to recycle wastewater because when untreated waste flows into our oceans, it causes pollution. Conversely, with inland cities, recycled the wastewater is normally released into rivers, removing it from the river could cause a huge negative impact.
Of course the idea is experiencing some opposition. The Westlands Water District, which is the largest irrigation district in the country, is challenging the project because of the possible effects it may have on the San Joaquin River. They argue that since the river is used so much by the region, that minimal standards have been put in place to protect the water quality and also the endangered salmon that live in the river. They would rather see the treated wastewater go into the river instead of recycling it. In addition, some officials with the Turlock Irrigation District say they’d rather see the wastewater used to replenish local groundwater. The City of Turlock relies on groundwater for its water supply, which is discharged into the San Joaquin River after being treated. Calvin Curtain, who is a spokesperson for the Turlock Irrigation District said in an email, “recycled water is the primary source of water available to help achieve groundwater sustainability.”
Currently, other counties in California that are near urban areas, close to farm fields, have adopted the idea of recycled wastewater treatment plants. It only begins to get pricier when the water has to be moved over long distances. There is no one easy fix for Agriculture, and many are having to do their best with what is available to them now, even if that means less water availability to farmers. Most farmers in the Del Puerto Water District see water recycling as a way to survive the future of their crops and also their families’ livelihood. Of course the project still needs a number of permits from both local and state authorities, but if it’s approved, the taps could open up in just a few years.