City appeals pumping order

City of Stockton staff confirmed this week that they have asked the state to reconsider its decision to forbid pumping from the Delta this summer.

Stockton was one of more than 1,600 junior water-right holders ordered by the State Water Resources Control Board to stop taking water, in order to leave enough for more senior water-right holders this drought year.

The city, however, believes its case is unique, because it is allowed to take out of the Delta only as much water as it puts into the Delta at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, a few miles farther up the San Joaquin River.

Delta pumping is limited right now anyway, because of both permit restrictions and staffing limitations. But that’s starting to change; the opportunity to pump will increase in the coming days.

Municipal Utilities Department Assistant Director Bob Granberg said the intention is to go ahead and pump for now, despite the state’s order, which calls in general for those 1,600 junior water right holders to cease diversions immediately.

“We consulted with (City Attorney) John (Luebberke) and we took the action to have our outside counsel submit a letter to the state board to the effect that, ‘Yes, while we are an appropriative right, we feel we are unique… we have no net impact to downstream users… we’re going to continue to pump and if you feel differently, let us know,’” Granberg told the Council Water Committee on Wednesday.

Luebberke told the committee the state had not yet responded. He said the water the city takes is not even considered to be inflow to the Delta, since it is in effect coming from the treatment plant.

“We’re confident that’s the right answer,” he said.

In other business:

• City officials expressed their disappointment in a new wastewater discharger permit, which they say could result in costs to ratepayers of up to $250 million over the next 10 years. They said it’s likely they will appeal the decision to the state board.

Some of the regional water board members who handed down the permit last Friday seemed a bit reluctant at first, but in the end made a decision that city officials felt was based not on technical information but on a “protecting the Delta” political environment. The vote was 5-0.

The next step will be to come up with a plan to perhaps redirect some of the funds that have already been secured from ratepayers, to help minimize the impact of the new permit. Still, under a worst-case scenario, existing rates of about $38 per month could double, they said.

MUD Director Mel Lytle said water board members did seem to understand, toward the end of last week’s meeting, the “gravity” of such a rate increase in economically challenged Stockton.

“That’s something I tried to stress not only here at the regional board hearing but also in conversations with staff and the executive officer,” Lytle said. “Typically they trot out this decision against (the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant) where they’re spending a billion dollars… They say, ‘What’s Stockton got to worry about? Sac Regional’s spending a billion dollars.’ My response always is that Stockton is not Sacramento.”

For one, the Sac Regional plant serves many more people, allowing the cost to be spread out among a larger group of ratepayers.

Speaking of people, when told of Stockton’s troubles the water board expressed concern that there are disadvantaged people not only in Stockton but also in Southern California, where water supplies are said to be harmed by taste and odor problems as a result of algae blooms in the Delta that may be caused in part by Stockton’s wastewater.

But just like the Sacramento example, there are millions more in the south that may be better able to pay for increased treatment costs, due to their sheer numbers.

Finally, even though the board chose to issue a permit with a more rigid numeric target, it remains unclear what the federal standard for nitrates ultimately will be, Lytle said.

“That’s what the biggest question is,” he said. “You’re regulating based on number of which science has no confidence in.”

• The project to convert to chloramine disinfectant is still a go, though city officials are waiting to get the official OK from the state Department of Public Health. They’d originally expected to start using chloramines on June 5.

• Bill Loyko, head of the city’s Water Advisory Group, told the committee and city officials that he believes water conservation efforts need to be ramped up. He used the example of redeploying tabletop cards in restaurants reminding customers and waiters that water is supposed to be served only upon request.

“A lot of restaurants now bring glasses and carafes,” said City Councilwoman Kathy Miller. “They’re bringing even more. I just think it sends a terrible message… we are perceived as being extravagantly wasteful with our water, and it hurts us.”

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    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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