Giving water a new life

Water officials remain optimistic that reclaimed water can augment irrigation supplies for local agriculture and parks

Possible expanded uses of reclaimed water was the topic of a May 11 special meeting of the Hollister City Council.

San Benito County Water District Executive Director Jeff Cattaneo gave a presentation concerning how the city can use reclaimed water, which is currently being irrigated at Brigantino Park, a citry-owned grassy area just past the 4th Street bridge over the San Benito River. Cattaneo said the city assigned responsibility of the water to the water district.

“Water that is currently being disposed of will be instead beneficially used for agriculture,” Cattaneo said, referring to a long-planned goal of piping water from the sewer treatment plant to agricultural fields along Wright Road. Water officials have tested the water on crops — which showed no indication of pathogens — though there is concern about the salinity of the water. Improvements to the city's water treatment infrastructure, including the Lessalt Water Treatment Plant and the planned West Hills plant, are expected to further improve the quality of water that is eventually re-used.

The Hollister Urban Area Water Project (HUAWP) is a collaborative effort approved in 2013 between the City of Hollister, Sunnyslope County Water District and San Benito County Water District to improve drinking water quality, protect the groundwater basin and help meet state mandated wastewater discharge requirements. The next phase of the HUAWP is the construction of the West Hills Treatment Plant, which will treat up to 4.5 million gallons a day of imported surface water. Taken together, officials say the Lessalt and West Hills plants will increase the quality of drinking water throughout the Hollister area. It will allow the City of Hollister and Sunnyslope to decrease their pumping of lower quality groundwater, allow water recycling for local crops and assist the City of Hollister and Sunnyslope County Water District in meeting State Water Quality Board wastewater discharge requirements.

The use of imported surface water will also reduce the mineral content in local drinking water, reducing the need for water softeners in most areas and contributing to longer life for many household appliances.

Hollister Mayor Igancio Velasquez, in an interview with BenitoLink, praised the beneficial uses of reclaimed water.

“The goal is to start using it on crops in the next few years and it will be used on farmland on Wright Road going toward the airport," he said.

Velasquez said the county is still in relatively good shape when it comes to water availability.

“We’ve been doing a good job in San Benito County to make the most of the water we have," he said. "We’re in good shape because of the planning in the past, compared to other counties. We’re still in good shape to hold us over through the drought.”

Velasquez said the reclaimed water project will take a few years to be completed, but in the wake of the ongoing drought, "cities all over the state are using reclaimed water for several different things.” Local officials hope that reclaimed water will eventually irrigate local parks and golf courses, in addition to being another option for farmers whose supply of higher-quality, lower-salt water from the state has been reduced in recent years.