Recycling project supplements farm water

Issue Date: July 18, 2018
By Christine Souza
Farmer Daniel Bays of Westley shows off a field of processing tomatoes that he planted this season thanks to supplemental water for irrigation through the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program, a partnership among the Del Puerto Water District, the cities of Modesto and Turlock and others.
Photo/Christine Souza
Wastewater is treated at the city of Modesto pumping plant.
Photo/City of Modesto
Del Puerto Water District farmers receive the treated water via an outfall facility along the federal Delta-Mendota Canal.
Photo/Christine Souza

Having received little to no water from the federal Central Valley Project in recent drought years, farmers in a western Stanislaus County irrigation district have partnered with cities to purchase tertiary-treated recycled water, to help secure a more certain water supply.

Farmers within the Patterson-based Del Puerto Water District say its water contract with the federal Central Valley Project has been insufficient during the past two decades due to shortages resulting from hydrology, environmental regulation and the general inability to move water north to south across the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

"It makes it difficult to farm in a Mediterranean climate if you don't have water," farmer Daniel Bays said. "As federal contracts for CVP water are becoming less reliable, you get very concerned about: Am I able to grow high-value crops on this ground? Am I able to farm consistently year after year?"

Because of that, the Del Puerto board—chaired by Bays' grandfather, Gene Bays—started looking for new water sources for the district's 43,000 acres of farmland. The idea for the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program began in 2010 and grew out of a discussion about recycled water and a tour of the Monterey Regional Water Treatment Facility, which delivers recycled water to local agriculture.

Anthea Hansen, general manager of the Del Puerto Water District, called the North Valley project the first of its kind in the Central Valley and "probably the largest urban-to-agriculture project in the state in terms of the acre-feet that we will be able to put to beneficial use."

"Every irrigable acre in the district is getting a fair share of this water," she said.

The North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program, a collaborative project among Del Puerto and the cities of Modesto and Turlock and other partners, utilizes treated municipal wastewater from Modesto and Turlock, making it available for agricultural irrigation. The project includes construction of a new pumping plant and pipeline connecting the cities' treatment facilities to the Delta-Mendota Canal.

"The project was concepted by the board of directors of Del Puerto Water District to try to alleviate some of the problems that come with water shortages—fallowing, deficit irrigation of permanent crops and having to participate in annual water supply markets for supplemental supplies that are very expensive and often not attainable," Hansen said. "This project provides us now with a reliable base supply. Next year, it will be 6 inches for every irrigable acre in the district, which will help our growers to plan and know that they have some small portion of their overall need met by a reliable, efficient and environmentally sensitive project."

Late last year, Del Puerto began receiving its first recycled water deliveries from the city of Modesto. This year, the district expects to receive 16,500 acre-feet, which, Hansen said, will increase during the life of the project's 40-year contract.

The city of Turlock expects to have its segment of the pipeline constructed by fall 2019, according to Michael Cooke, the city's municipal services director.

Grant funding has been acquired to help cover the project's $90 million cost, and Del Puerto farmers will pay $225 per acre-foot for recycled water they receive. Del Puerto will also make a portion of the recycled water available to Central Valley Project Improvement Act-designated wildlife refuges, which will pay the same for each acre-foot and will also share similar shortages of CVP supply.

William Wong, city of Modesto director of utilities, said the partnership came at an important time for the city, as regulations for the discharge of treated, recycled wastewater into the San Joaquin River became more restrictive.

"Modesto needed to treat its wastewater discharges to higher levels, so we needed to look into opportunities because the tertiary treatment, or recycled water costs, aren't cheap," Wong said. "We thought, if we are treating the water to this level and it can be reused for water for agriculture, then let's find someone who is willing to buy the water."

Gene Bays said the Del Puerto district has been receiving about 35 acre-feet of recycled water a day since the start of the program a few months ago.

"On average, the district expects to receive only one-third or so of our (CVP) contract supply, which is supposed to be 140,210 acre-feet a year," he said. "When both cities are online, the district should be receiving a reliable base of 25,000 to 30,000 acre-feet a year. That will give us a pretty good start."

Daniel Bays said provisions of the CVP contract also present timing challenges, noting that farmers don't often know what the final water allocation will be until March, April or even later, when it is too late to make planting decisions, acquire loans and secure contracts.

"This project gives us a reliable source of water that we can count on every year," he said, "and we have the infrastructure here with the Delta-Mendota Canal, San Luis Reservoir, our farm ground and the wildlife refuges to put that water to use, 365 days a year."

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.