On Oct. 7, the Hollister City Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing a memorandum of understanding between the city, the San Benito County Water District and Sunnyslope County Water District regarding the North County Groundwater project. The agreement is intended to ensure that high quality water continues to be delivered throughout the community. It also aims to provide redundancy for the northern part of the city and industrial park, as well as for agriculture and fire suppression at the Hollister Municipal Airport.
The facility plan for the North County Groundwater project recommends three phases for the source of supply:
- Phase 1: Provide an estimated 1,000 acre-feet/year (AFY) of new, high-quality water supply to the northerly part of the combined city and Sunnyslope water distribution system. Facilities would include new wells, pipelines, treatment (if required), storage tanks and booster pump station.
- Phases 2 and 3: Provide up to 5,000 AFY of reliable water supply to agricultural and M&l (municipal and industrial) users. This supply would be provided by a wellfield and blended with the Central Valley Project supply through a connection to the Hollister conduit.
The three agencies completed an update of the Hollister Urban Area Water and Wastewater Master Plan in 2017 out of mutual interest to ensure cooperation and mutual support to successfully implement a cost-effective plan for future water supply projects in the county, according to the meeting’s agenda packet. The estimated budget for the first phase of the project is $340,000, with the city and Sunnyslope each paying $148,000, leaving $44,000 for city fire suppression. The San Benito County Water District has already spent more than $200,000 on the project.
The 2017 water plan for the Hollister urban area identified a need for additional high-quality water supply and improved dry-year reliability. It provided recommendations for new water, wastewater, and recycled water facilities, and recommended that new water facilities include the expansion of the West Hills Water Treatment Plant and new wells to supply the northerly part of the combined distribution systems.
At the meeting, then-city manager Bill Avera, who retired in November, said the first phase of the agreement was to identify how to increase the supply of high-quality water, which could provide redundancy and could help the city avoid installing a 16-inch water main to the northern part of the city, and in turn provide some cost savings.
“This is a huge next step in making sure we have an adequate water supply, not only for the northern part of the city, but the entire area,” he said.
Jeff Cattaneo, operations manager for the San Benito County Water District, said the district identified a two-mile area around the airport to dig wells.
“Typically, wells out there have higher quality water than wells to the south,” Cattaneo said. “The further you go toward Pacheco Creek, the better the water quality because the geology is more volcanic as opposed to marine sediments in South County.”
Avera told BenitoLink the primary purpose of the new wells is for redundancy in supplying water capacity to the industrial park and meeting fire flow requirements.
“The north county wells don’t have much to do with housing,” he said. “It’s really about replacing two wells that have been down for several years with good or at least better water quality.”
Two existing wells in the area have been inoperable for a number of years, Avera said, one because of high nitrate levels and the other because it collapsed. There were also issues with high levels of chromium 6, a cancer-causing chemical.
A new well near the airport would alleviate the present situation where water is only moving from the south to a dead-end in the north, Cattaneo said. The new water supply would help during periodic draughts that cause a reduced water supply from Central California, and the county would not be subject to the same quality and pumping issues happening in the San Joaquin River Delta area, he said.
“This is 100% reliable because it’s in the county and we control it,” Cattaneo said. “When the Pacheco project is completed it will be releasing about 8,000-10,000 acre-feet into Pacheco Creek to help the steelhead [trout] runs. That water will also benefit the North County area and create more water than can be pumped out and put into use in the southern portions. We’re anticipating 4,000-6,000 acre-feet will have to be removed just to keep the high groundwater conditions from being a problem out in Lovers Lane.”
Councilman Marty Richman asked at the meeting if new wells would come from the same water source. Cattaneo said it would be a different zone where perhaps the only issue would be a need to soften the water.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said, “Part of this whole project we just completed, the idea was to use more surface water because our groundwater had higher levels of chromium 6. Now, if we’re pulling water from the northern part, how’s that water testing?”
Cattaneo said chromium 6 is not normally a problem in that area, but a number of smaller, pilot wells will be dug to pull water samples before digging the main well. Velazquez asked if the project would be stopped if water from the pilot wells are found to have excessive levels of chromium 6. Cattaneo said it wouldn’t, and that drilling would continue in other locations until a usable well could be found.
Velazquez was still concerned and said nearly $27 million had already been spent on water projects. He wondered when more water would actually be needed.
“I’m still looking at the debt we have and wondering why we would want to put in more money and then have to come back and tell our ratepayers the cost of your water is going up again,” he said.
Avera replied, “This investment is absolutely necessary because we can’t increase our industrial park and create the businesses and economics in North County if we don’t have a good water supply.”
“I don’t disagree with the concept,” Velazquez said, “I’m looking at this from a time perspective, financially.”
Cattaneo told the mayor that the feasibility study could continue, but the project might be delayed. If completed, it would provide multiple benefits into the future. Velazquez wanted to know what the bottom-line cost would ultimately be. Cattaneo said it would be between $7 million and $13 million. However, he didn’t know how the cost would be split among the three agencies.
Cattaneo said he understood the mayor’s concern about the rates consumers would pay, but said there was another way to look at it.
“You’re collecting impact fees for new developments and all of the things we’re doing benefits those new developments and the growth you’re looking at,” he said. “There’s a way you can capture and pay for at least a portion of it through impact fees you’re already collecting for on the water side.”
The San Benito County Water District has authority by state statute for management of water resources within the county and is the Groundwater Sustainability Agency. It is governed by an elected board of directors. Sunnyslope County Water District is a private agency incorporated in December 1954, with the mission to supply a safe and reliable water source to Hollister residents.