HOLLISTER — City leaders, members of local water boards and agency staff participated in a tour and overview of the Hollister area’s water system recently, getting a first-hand look at the community’s major water source, seeing how the water is treated and transported, and learning how planned improvements will ensure a reliable source of water for years to come.
The tour and orientation, held Feb. 25, was an introduction of the Hollister Urban Area Water Project (HUAWP), which is a joint effort by the City of Hollister, Sunnyslope County Water District and the San Benito County Water District. The project builds on many years of previous efforts by local water officials to create a sustainable water supply for the greater Hollister area.
Guests visited the site of the planned West Hills Water Treatment Plant (not far from the San Justo Reservoir), then drove over the Pacheco Pass to the Pacheco Pumping Station near the San Luis Reservoir, and finished the day with a tour of the Lessalt Water Treatment Plant. The event was designed to give elected officials a broader view of Hollister’s water system and illustrate why the HUAWP is needed.
Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, serving his first term after being elected in 2012, said he gained a new perspective on local water issues. “After touring our water facilities from San Luis Reservoir to San Justo Reservoir, I can now fully appreciate the difficult decisions made by past generations to fulfill our water needs here in San Benito,” he said. “Providing a reliable and safe water supply to our current residents and for future generations must be our top priority.”
Before setting out on a bus to tour various facilities, the water managers who lead the three agencies gave a presentation that included a history of local water planning and water sources, a description of the benefits of the HUAWP, and a discussion of the specific projects it includes.
San Benito County Water District Manager Jeff Cattaneo gave a description of the Hollister groundwater basin and a brief history of surface water in San Benito, with an emphasis on the significance of the San Felipe Project, which was approved by voters in 1977 and imports water from the Central Valley Project. It includes the San Luis Reservoir, which provides water to San Benito and Santa Clara counties through a cooperative operating agreement.
Water from the San Felipe Project transformed the local agricultural economy by providing a source of reliable, high-quality water for local farmers. Cattaneo also explained that the San Felipe project “always envisioned that there would be water available for the city of Hollister and local residents.” The HUAWP will bring that vision to fruition by providing additional treatment systems and increasing the amount of surface water, and decreasing the amount of groundwater, which will be delivered to Hollister and Sunnyslope customers.
Hollister City Manager Clint Quilter reviewed the history of the HUAWP, which got started in 2004 with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the local agencies, a shared vision for a reliable local water supply. He explained the essential elements of the plan: better quality water; the ability to treat and use our wastewater now and in the future; and an affordable project.
“Our Governance Committee has spent a lot of time protecting the affordability of this project for the community,” said Quilter. “And a more equitable way of distributing high quality water.” He said that cooperation among the three agencies has been critical to the success to date of planning the project.
Project Manager Harry Blohm said the formation of the HUAWP is in keeping with the community’s wishes. “We began meeting with the public in 2005 regarding a new water project to improve quality and reliability,” he said. “All said that they have been frustrated by an apparent lack of cooperation among all of the agencies and that they want all agencies to work together to solve our problems. Today, I think that we demonstrated that all are working together for a better future.”
Quilter discussed the connection between improved drinking water and wastewater discharge. Even with the improvements made at the City of Hollister and Sunnyslope wastewater treatment plants, improved drinking water treatment is needed to improve wastewater being discharged back in to the environment. This will help us protect our groundwater basin and some of this water can be used again as reclaimed water for agriculture and landscape accounts.
Sunnyslope County Water District (SSCWD) General Manager Don Ridenhour explained the specific projects that are included in the HUAWP. The first phase includes upgrades to the Lessalt Water Treatment Plant, construction of the new West Hills Water Treatment Plant, and pipelines to serve customers throughout the Hollister area. The first phase is estimated at $30 million. A study is being conducted to analyze various rate increase scenarios to be considered by the City and SSCWD elected bodies.
At the Pacheco Pumping Plant the group was given a tour of the huge facility by staff from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which operates the facility. It includes 12 large pumps that send water from the adjacent San Luis Reservoir through the seven-mile Pacheco Tunnel and into the Pacheco Conduit. The conduit then splits, sending water through the Hollister Conduit west to San Benito County and through the Santa Clara Conduit to Santa Clara County. Seeing the water system first hand, from reservoirs to pumping plants to water treatment systems, gave officials a better understanding of Hollister’s water system and how planned improvements will provide water stability into the future.
The visit to the Pacheco Pumping Plant, demonstrated the benefits of the cooperative agreement between the San Benito Water Agency and the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which operates the pumping station. “Going up there and meeting with the Santa Clara Valley Water District showed us the importance of keeping down the costs in the future for reliable clean water by working together as agencies,” said Danny Villalon, a SSCWD board member and member of the Governance Committee overseeing the HUAWP. “Santa Clara is a very good partner and a very good example of the benefits of two counties working together. We can do the same thing here among our local agencies and keep the costs down and make sure we have good quality water now and into the future.”
A tour of the Lessalt Water Treatment Plant concluded the day’s events. Plant operator Jim Filice explained how the plant’s SCADA system allows SSCWD to operate the plant remotely and monitor its function via computer. With the planned upgrades to the plant, its capacity will be increased and it will meet new state treatment regulations by the end of 2013, regulations that were not in place when the plant was built.
San Benito County Water District Director John Tobias said the tour should help elected officials in communicating with their constituents about Hollister’s water system. “They can go back and be more comfortable talking to their customers about what the water district does and the cost of their water,” said Tobias. “They have a better idea about what the water district does to provide that water.”
Tobias said the HUAWP is a cooperative effort to provide “good quality water for everyone.” He said by helping improve water quality, it will help Sunnyslope and Hollister improve their wastewater process, and in turn provide recycled water that farmers can use. “Better water in is better water out,” he said. “By creating better reclaimed water, we can supplement our water supply for high-dollar crops.
“This reclaimed water that comes out of the Hollister Wastewater Treatment plant is going to be more valuable,” said Tobias, “as we all recognize based on the amount of rain we’ve had this year. If we can make that a resource, it’s a benefit to everyone in the area.”
For more information about the Hollister Urban Area Water Project, visit: http://hollisterwaterproject.com/