Environment / Nature

San Juan Bautista explores new solutions for water problems

City Council targets reducing chlorides with a potential ban on water softeners and technology to remove nitrates from well water.

San Juan Bautista moved a couple of steps closer to resolving their ongoing water problem at a recent meeting, discussing the implementation of a water softener buyback program and agreeing to test a biological processing system that could help with cutting pollutants.

The Microvi plant at Sunny Slope Water Company in Pasadena, California similar to that intended for San Juan Bautista. Photo courtesy of Don Reynolds.
The Microvi plant at Sunny Slope Water Company in Pasadena, California similar to that intended for San Juan Bautista. Photo courtesy of Don Reynolds.

At the March 16 San Juan Bautista City Council meeting, City Manager Don Reynolds began by presenting a report on the progress being made implementing a water plan previously accepted by the council that directly addresses federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerns.

The problems began in 2006 when the EPA began citing the city for high amounts of nitrates and chlorides in their wastewater. After a failed attempt at a solution in 2008—the acquisition of a water softening pellet plant—the city managers prior to Reynolds did little to address the problem further, resulting in fines of over $820,000. 

Reynolds told council members that a memorandum of understanding regarding the acquisition of water had been finalized with the San Benito County Water District. This is being followed by design meetings to establish population growth limits and a route for the required water lines from Hollister to San Juan Bautista.

A contract was finalized with the Hollister Wastewater Treatment Plant to process wastewater from San Juan Bautista and is now awaiting execution. Reynolds said that there had been a slight delay in the contract because of a need to address certain requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

The city is planning to run a pipeline that will be close to their industrial users so that wastewater can be sent directly to Hollister without entering existing facilities in San Juan Bautista.

Council members considered an ordinance to limit self-regenerating water softeners, with an eye towards eventually eliminating them from the city under the provisions of Assembly Bill 334. Water softeners are at the heart of the city’s chloride pollutant problems that have resulted in multiple EPA violations over the last 15 years. The ban would go into effect closer to the completion of the new water lines.

“These kinds of water softeners add about 20% of the salt in our wastewater,” Reynolds said. “If you take the industrial wastewater out of the system, that number jumps to around 40%. The Hollister plant will not accept water from us with that level of salt.”

Reynolds hopes to reduce salt to less than 8% through the ban on water softeners, along with encouraging residents to take advantage of a rebate program established by the Water Resources Association of San Benito County to buy back home water softeners. 

“This program has a lot of benefits environmentally and economically,” said Shawn Novack, water conservation program manager with the Water Resources Association of San Benito County. “With water softeners, the salty brine that is the result of production of soft water goes back into the waste system and ends up back in the groundwater basin, compounding the problem. As the water gets better in San Juan Bautista, people will not need the water softeners anymore or use alternatives that do not discharge salt into the system.” 

There will be a second reading and possible vote on the resolution next month.

Proposed Microvi plant. Photo courtesy of Don Reynolds.
Proposed Microvi plant. Photo courtesy of Don Reynolds.

Council members also approved an agreement with Microvi Biotec Inc to conduct a demonstration of their system for removing nitrates from well water, another ongoing issue and major source of pollution.

If successful, the treated water would be blended with water from existing city wells and would reduce the reliance on water from the San Benito County Water District.

“This technology is proven to provide a simple and effective way of removing pollutants,” Reynolds said. “It converts nitrates into water and nitrogen gas which can be released into the atmosphere. It is low-cost and energy-efficient, as well as being a green and sustainable solution.”

The system works through the use of biocatalysts, which contain microorganisms that convert targeted pollutants into harmless byproducts. There is no sludge or biological waste produced.

Microvi is offering the technology to the city as part of a $350,000 grant the company received. As a result, the only cost to the city will be for connecting water and power to the system and for ongoing operation and maintenance.

Other related BenitoLink articles:

BL Special Report: San Juan Bautista’s water problems reaching critical mass

BL Special Report: Why San Juan Bautista’s ‘million-dollar’ water fix was never implemented

BL Special Report: San Juan’s wastewater treatment plant adds to city’s water woes

BL Special Report: Solving San Juan Bautista’s water problems

San Juan Bautista accepts EPA terms on water issues

San Juan Bautista moves ahead with water compliance projects


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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.