Valley cities look to recycled water to ease drought concerns

FRESNO, Calif.

As the state continues to cope with little runoff, low lake levels and depleting reservoirs, cities are looking for new ways to preserve potable water for drinking. One way is by recycling water for other uses such as landscaping and irrigation for agriculture.

Everyday nearly 68 million gallons of brown wastewater pours through two wastewater treatment plants on opposite ends of the city of Fresno. The department of public utilities said that's enough to cover a football field to a height of more than 15 stories.

But only a fraction of clean water flows out through either canals or purple pipes to irrigate the greens and fairways at Copper River Golf Course and non-food crops at farms on the southwest side.

"This water is used to put into about 1700 acres of infiltration ponds," said Assistant Director of Public Utilities Steve Hogg. "It' s percolated back into groundwater underneath the ponds and then about a third of that is pumped out and put into local irrigation canals for agricultural irrigation,"

Now there's a new push to increase the use of recycled water at places like parks, schools and cemeteries all over town.

"We're looking to do about 25,000 acre feet a year of recycled water by 2020 so that's a pretty ambitious plan," said Hogg.

To accomplish that mission, the Fresno-Clovis Regional Wastewater Reclamation Facility plans to break ground on the first phase of a five million gallon-a-day plant sometime this summer. Hogg said the Water Management Division is looking to guzzle up low-interest financing offered through the state.

"We hope to start construction late summer, it's going to be two year construction period and then we'll begin design and bid on the distribution system which will take it back into the urban area," he added.

Right now, taxpayer money is flowing toward recycled water programs up and down California.

As part of recent drought relief measures signed by Governor Jerry Brown, the state allocated 200 million dollars in grants to jump start those efforts and slashed interest rates on 800 million more in loans.

An incentive, Steve Hogg said is a clear choice for a sustainable future in Fresno.

"Recycled water is a very drought tolerant supply, we have local control over it and it's readily available," he said.

Hogg said Fresno has submitted an application to receive a low-interest loan from the state to break ground on the facility's three acre expansion.

He said the loan would be paid off through a combination of existing sewer usage fees and fees collected on the sale of recycled water.

He expects to hear back in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, he said the city is also looking into industrial uses of recycled water to cool air conditioning systems, power plants and other manufacturing equipment as well as for landscaping at homes within the next 10 years.

In early 2009, the city of Clovis began producing up to 2.8 million gallons per day of highly-treated recycled water. The water is distributed through a network of purple pipes to irrigate green belts, median islands, parks, trails and paseos, as well as State Route 168 and agricultural operations around the city.

The project was designed to allow multiple phases of future expansion. At its maximum capacity, the recycled water system will be able to produce and reuse up to 8.4 million gallons a day.

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