UKIAH, CA, 2/7/23 — The city of Ukiah has received a $53.7 million grant to expand its water recycling project across multiple schools and parks, enabling the city to offset 50% of its average water use with treated wastewater by fall of 2024.
Ukiah’s program falls under an overall goal by the State Water Resources Control Board to increase California’s use of recycled water, which according to the Volumetric Annual Report of Wastewater and Recycled Water stood at 731,586 acre-feet per year (afy) in 2021. Ukiah’s multimillion dollar grant and others like it aim to support dramatic capacity increases, with a goal of reaching 2.5 million afy of recycled water by 2030.
“It’s a lot of money to leverage into this little town, but we had a good vision,” Sean White, Ukiah’s director of water and sewer, told The Mendocino Voice in a phone conversation. “All the leadership here really pushed to have Phase 4 be shovel-ready, so when that money came around after or during COVID to get things going, we would be in a good position to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Elsewhere in California, cities are taking on unprecedented water recycling infrastructure; for example, Southern California’s “direct potable reuse” system would put purified recycled water directly into the drinking supply. Ukiah’s project, which went online in 2019 and continues to produce non-potable water only, is not so advanced.
“It’s a very basic system,” White explained. “We’re mostly intending to irrigate areas that are currently irrigated with potable water.”
But that basic system has dramatic impacts; by the end of 2024, Ukiah will have upped its recycled water capacity from 1,000 afy to 1,500 afy, accounting for about half of the 3,000 afy of water that the city uses annually. Reducing Ukiah’s reliance on other sources of water this substantially will also alleviate some pressure on strained Mendocino County water resources including groundwater, the Russian River watershed, and Lake Mendocino.
“That’s a very hard conservation number to get to, and we’re going to be doing that every day here,” White said. “A lot of big cities that have put a lot of effort into recycled water are really excited if they can get to 15 or 20 percent.”
White is also grateful to have “learned a lot” in executing Phases 1 through 3 of the project, saying “Anytime you design a large piece of infrastructure, you don’t just turn it on and it works perfectly.” The city will spend the next year making improvements at the wastewater treatment plant to facilitate enough water for Phase 4, with the goal of beginning new construction in fall 2023. The biggest change is building a concrete-lined bay to hold water, avoiding drawing water out of percolation ponds which could be a “leaky bucket,” especially during times of high drought.
The city will also build another large tank and pump station next to the treatment plant to store recycled water, and will send a new pipe under Highway 101. This construction will expand recycled water delivery to Vinewood Park, Frank Zeek School, Pomolita School, soccer fields, Ukiah High School, the Ukiah Cemetery, Anton Stadium, Giorno Park, Todd Grove Park, and the Ukiah Valley Golf Course.
The project currently serves the Ukiah Softball Complex, Oak Manor Elementary School, Riverside Park, the Ukiah Transfer Station & Recycling Center, and 700 acres of agricultural land. Among that acreage is land owned by Frost Pauli of Pauli Ranch, who has used water from the program since its inception. He was onboard as Ukiah worked out the project’s kinks, including bolstering its filtration system to avoid debris in the water, and has been impressed with its evolution.
“This past year in 2022, we did use a little bit of water under our riparian water right,” Pauli told The Voice. “But in 2021, when the drought was at its worst, we used zero water from the Russian River, and we were able to replace that river water with recycled water. Obviously, we cut way back on water use because of the drought, but we were able to make it with just using recycled water on that ranch.”
Pauli, whose family has grown wine grapes and pears in Mendocino County since the early 1800s, is grateful to have decent water rights. Recycled water is “another tool in our toolbox that allows us flexibility.”
He would love to see the project expand to farmers on the eastern side of the Russian River, who currently can’t access the recycled water.
“My hope would be that even more producers can get into the program and receive water,” he said.
Read the news release on Phase 4 of the project here.
Note: Kate Fishman covers the environment & natural resources for The Mendocino Voice in partnership with a Report For America. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Fishman’s work with a tax-deductible donation here or by emailing [email protected]. Contact her at KFishman@mendovoice.com or at (707) 234-7735. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.
I support, in some regions there is a sharp shortage of fresh water and this problem should be quickly resolved at the local level of government, they are great! https://nearestlandfill.com/org/cw-recycling-center/ I, living in my district, also want to submit such a request there, to the local authorities.