For Stockton, tunnels about quality AND quantity

One detail was omitted from last week’s write-up on the city of Stockton’s concerns about how the Delta tunnels might impact the city’s new water treatment plant.

This is a bit wonky. Stick with me.

The story is all about the city’s fear that water quality will deteriorate at the intake for its $220 million drinking water plant, forcing expensive treatment upgrades that could jack up rates, theoretically, by up to 200 percent.

But it’s not just water quality that is of concern. It’s quantity, too.

That may sound strange. The Delta is tidally influenced. There is always water physically present at the city’s intake on Empire Tract.

But Stockton’s water right is a bit unusual. The water right allows the city to divert only as much water as it puts back into the Delta at its wastewater treatment plant, a number of miles upstream near the Port of Stockton.

This means the city is basically reusing its wastewater, though not necessarily the same actual molecules of water.

That’s cool, but here’s the concern: The city says saltier water at its drinking water intake means saltier water must be processed at its wastewater treatment plant. And if the water at the wastewater plant is too salty, the city may not be allowed under its permits to release as much of that treated wastewater back into the Delta.

And if the city can’t put as much water into the Delta, it can’t take as much out to begin with — even though there will be plenty of water physically present to divert.

A vicious cycle.

Again, all of this is theoretical. Using Delta-wide models, state officials have determined that water quality impacts at Buckley Cove, which lies between the city’s drinking water intake and the wastewater pipe, would see only very modest changes to water quality.

I haven’t heard the city dispute that finding, but Stockton officials would still like to see the state provide some analysis for waters closer to either end of the city’s waterworks.

The city was subject to “considerable scrutiny” when it received its own water right more than a decade ago, Municipal Utilities Department Assistant Director Bob Granberg testified before the State Water Resources Control Board.

“The city is simply asking the state board to require that petitioners resolve our protest concerns and impose conditions that will protect the city’s water supply,” he said.

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