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.
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.
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.
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