New members from the Delta and Central Valley are trickling into a coalition of Bay Area public agencies looking to increase the state's water supply with recycled water.
Brentwood, Ceres, Modesto, Fresno, Turlock, and Patterson's Del Puerto Water District recently joined the Western Recycled Water Coalition, boosting the group to 21 members.
Formerly called the Bay Area Recycled Water Coalition, the group started in the mid-2000s with a half-dozen members. It now represents about 3.2 million people.
Recycled water use reduces the amount of fresh water pumped from the Delta and provides a sustainable, water supply that can withstand droughts, low snowpacks and restrictions on water withdrawals, Gary Darling, Delta Diablo Sanitation District's general manager, said.
"Every drop of recycled water we produce reduces the amount of fresh water we have to draw from the Delta and our groundwater. It really is the low-hanging fruit of water development," Darling said.
Establishing a group of like-minded water utilities allows them to speak with "one voice" when lobbying for money from state and federal officials, Darling said.
"(U.S. Senator Dianne) Feinstein told us in 2007 that we must show these projects as resolving a regional need," Darling said.
William Wong, a senior civil engineer in Modesto, said the city joined the coalition because of its clout and success in obtaining funds. Modesto, along with Turlock, Ceres, Stanislaus County and the Del Puerto Water District, is trying to create a $100 million regional water project allowing recycled water to be used for irrigation in drought-impacted areas of the San Joaquin Valley. It would also reduce the amount of wastewater discharged into the San Joaquin River, which feeds into the Delta, Wong said.
But, previous efforts to obtain federal funds for the project have been unsuccessful.
"(Coalition membership) will help us better present our case," he said.
The group also is able to collaborate.
Over the past few years, officials say there has been more public acceptance and understanding of the use of recycled water, or as Wong puts it, people are getting over the "Ew factor."
"It's treated to a high quality; cleaner than what comes out of the river before it's treated," Wong said.
Recycled water uses in Northern California range from industrial cooling of Silicon Valley's data centers and East Contra Costa's power plants, to landscaping in parks, golf courses and trails in cities throughout the East Bay. A large recycled water program in Monterey is used for raw food crop irrigation.
Despite steep startup costs, cities are starting to see long-term savings from making the water switch.
Pittsburg has saved about $75,000 per year on its general operating costs since turning the spigot on reused water in 2009, said Walter Pease, the city's water utilities director. It cost the city $7 million, including $2.5 million in redevelopment money for the program.
Using recycled water also reduces the need for new system capacity by about 1 million gallons per day, Pease said. Calpine's two major power plants in Pittsburg both use Delta Diablo recycled water to cool its machinery.
Coalition members are planning 20 new recycled water projects over the next few years, while trying to bring in members from Monterey, the Sierra foothill communities, as well as Oregon and Nevada.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.