Paso Robles moves toward using recycled water for irrigation

Worsening shortage brings push to put $46 million plan in place sooner

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comApril 16, 2014 

Tim Teller plays Paso Robles’ Links golf course, which is adjacent to wine-grape vineyards, creating a scene of green irrigated grass and vines surrounded by brown hillsides in 2013.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

With the dismal state of groundwater levels fresh in the community’s mind, Paso Robles city leaders are pushing forward to bring recycled water to town that could be used for irrigation by large customers such as vineyards.

The water would come from the city’s treated sewage discharge that currently is dumped into the Salinas River.

On Tuesday, the City Council adopted a long-term plan for distributing the reused resource and opted to use nearly $795,000 from the city’s sewer funds to pay for a preliminary design to pump, pipe and treat it.

The system could come online within the next five years, if demand calls for it.

Plans from 15 years ago called for bringing recycled water to the city by 2025. But local worries over the shrinking Paso Robles groundwater basin — the main source of water for many in the North County — paired with new grants the state could offer, brought urgency to the idea.

“It wasn’t until now that conditions had changed to make recycled water more attractive,” city wastewater manager Matt Thompson said Wednesday.

“For the last many decades, water in Paso Robles has been cheap,” Thompson said. “But with recent issues with the basin, drought, buying Nacimiento water, climate change … the economics of water in Paso is changing.”

The demand for recycled water would need to come from vineyards, golf courses and city parks — examples of large users that could afford buying into the estimated $46 million project.

Paso Robles may also have the option of selling recycled water outside the city.

“If demand for recycled water goes faster (than originally predicted) … such as agricultural uses in the east … we want to be in a position to build the (plant) on a five-year horizon,” Thompson said at the meeting.

Homes likely won’t use it, as one resident suggested Tuesday, because state health laws prohibit recycled water from traveling through existing pipelines, and building new lines to each home is too costly.

The basin, one of several sources of water for the city, is facing a crisis of falling water levels affecting rural residents and vineyards.

The city of Paso Robles has multiple water sources — Nacimiento Lake, the Salinas River underflow and groundwater — prompting city leaders to stand by their assessment that the city isn’t facing the same water shortages as its rural neighbors with groundwater-dependent wells.

Using recycled water for irrigation would also offset large consumers’ use of potable water from the basin, which officials say will help the underground water supply as a whole.

Even still, the recycled water would need to be mixed with groundwater because of salts in the discharge, city officials said.

About 3,000 to 5,400 acre-feet of recycled water could be produced annually to offset basin pumping for irrigation users.

Money for the treatment plant’s initial design comes from $2 million in savings in the city’s current sewage plant upgrade under construction.

Councilman John Hamon expressed worry Tuesday about spending money on preliminary plans that could change down the road. Ultimately, he agreed to the expense.

Contract design engineers will prepare the basic engineering for requisite recycled water production filtration and disinfection systems, according to the city.

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