Photo by Robert Eliason.
San Juan Bautista Wastewater Treatment Plant. Photo by Robert Eliason.

San Juan Bautista City Manager Don Reynolds announced the U.S. The Department of Agriculture accepted an application for assistance that includes a total of $14 million in potential funds for the city’s wastewater project. He also said Hollister accepted the final design for the project. 

Reynolds told BenitoLink he got a call from representatives of the USDA just as he was going into the first closed session of the Nov. 15 City Council meeting.

“When I called them back, he told me that our application for assistance that was sent to Washington, D.C., had been accepted,” he said. “It is pending approval and includes a $10 million low-interest loan and a $4 million grant for the sewer project, bringing us up to $8 million in grants, which means it is fully funded.”

He added the grants and loans could somewhat defray the scheduled increases in sewage rates paid by San Juan residents and businesses.

Reynolds is also working on transforming the memorandums of understanding with the city of Hollister for the use of their water and wastewater facilities into long-term agreements. He said that moving forward on the wastewater project is particularly important because the city continues to be fined over pollutants from the city’s current plant.

Reynolds said the city is working with the California Fish and Wildlife Department on the permits needed to start the work for the wastewater project. The next step will be offering the project to contractors and accepting bids for the work.

One unexpected complication of closing down the city’s treatment plant is that, over the years, the area around the discharge creek has created its own protected ecosystem. 

“It is so ironic,” he said. “We are getting out of the business of putting our effluent into the creek, but when we stop doing that, there will be no more water for the creek. That is not good for the critters who rely on the water. So there is a special permit we need to file with Fish and Wildlife called a ‘taking,’ and we need to also come up with a mitigation measure.”

As a result, the city is buying conservation credits in the Sparling Ranch Conservation Bank for $468,000, the equivalent of 7.8 acres, which are designated for the protection of the California Red Legged Frog and the California Tiger Salamander.

“The city’s credits go towards paying biologists for testing and constant monitoring to be sure the habitat is preserved,” he said. “We are just exchanging one location for another.”


Reynolds gets raise and contract extension

After two closed sessions with labor negotiators and the San Juan Bautista City Council held during its regular Nov. 15 meeting, council members unanimously approved a raise in pay and a two-year extension of Reynolds’ contract. Currently Reynolds’ annual salary is $143,000; it will increase to $165,750 once the agreement is drafted and signed.

Reynolds was hired on July 2, 2019, and was immediately faced with a complex series of problems with the city’s water quality and wastewater management system. His first day on the job he received a letter from the State Water Resources Control Board that detailed more than $820,000 in fines stretching back over 12 years.

Since then, he has negotiated with the Water Board on the fines, set up agreements with the city of Hollister to provide water and waste services to San Juan Bautista, and secured loans and grants to finance the hookups between the cities.

Reynolds credits his solutions to the water problems as being a significant factor in the decision, saying the council was “quite flattering” in its appraisal of his work on the issue.


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