What Will the North Bay Water Recycling Program Really Cost?

This week we focus on a deal being promulgated called the North Bay Water Recycling Program. There is an analysis and commentary by David Keller and an official comment letter by the Sonoma County Water Coalition. Note that the notice of preparation has project objectives not consistent with the analysis. Using the link, download their documents to see for yourself. [See Notice of Preparation Post]

This Project would send some 22-30,000 acre feet of recycled water, originally taken from the Eel and Russian Rivers and Santa Rosa Plain groundwater by SCWA and used by its contractor cities, then treated and pumped through a massive pipeline project mostly to benefit grape growers who have overdrafted their local water supplies in southern Sonoma and Napa Valleys and Solano county.

We strongly believe that the highest priority for reuse of treated wastewater is to use it locally by cities to greatly reduce current and future urban demands for water from our North Coast rivers, not to create new vineyard customers. This Project dis-incentivizes local reuse by paying dischargers to pump it elsewhere.

This SCWA-Bureau of Reclamation Project would use 5-11,000 new horsepower for pumps, but deliver only 1400-1459 acre feet per year of recycled water to displace potable water demands in Novato and Sonoma. There is no proposal to offset or reduce the cost generated by this pumping. The Project cost is estimated at $311-512M in capital costs, with $10-12M/yr operating costs.

Support current and future urban reuse needs, instead of relying on new water supplies pumped from the rivers and wells. Displacing potable water now used for irrigating parks, playfields, medians, landscaping, etc, for industrial heating and cooling processes, for instance, as well as for ‘purple plumbing’ for toilets and urinals, should be the first priority for the recycled water.

As SCWA’s own literature states: “Less is More, any time of the year. Using less water means more water in Lake Mendocino, Lake Sonoma, and the Russian River. We rely on these sources for drinking water, wildlife habitat, and recreational activities.”

The NBay Water Reuse Authority is now also claiming that as wastewater treatment agencies, they have no control over trying to reduce water consumption by the water supplying agencies/contractors, so much of our concern about reducing impacts on source waters is beyond their control. “Not my problem…” Yet, the biggest fish in this pond is SCWA itself, which is the largest water purveyor on the North Coast. We will need to puncture this defensive and myopic institutional view of water resources and restoration.

Thank you for your continued support and hard work to try to make this project a showcase for reuse, instead of a 1950’s style ‘pump and pipe’ project to serve new customers.

David Keller
Bay Area Director Friends of the Eel River