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Healdsburg may use treated wastewater for vineyards


The historic drought and the emphasis on conserving potable water is bringing new urgency to using reclaimed wastewater for irrigation.

The Healdsburg City Council at 4 p.m. Friday is holding a special meeting to consider extending a pipeline from the city's sewer plant to provide highly treated wastewater to surrounding vineyards.

It also would make it easier for trucks to access and haul the water beyond Healdsburg, not only for vineyards and orchards, but for frost prevention and dust control.

"It's great quality water. There's people who could use it," said Mayor Jim Wood. "It's a tremendous offset for potable water (use)."

Currently the state-of-the-art treatment plant discharges about one million gallons daily of "near drinkable" reclaimed water into a pond, which then leaches into the adjacent Russian River.

The city is under orders from North Coast water quality regulators to end those discharges into the river during the normal dry season. Healdsburg has long-term plans to build a pipe network to use the reclaimed water to irrigate its municipal golf course, vineyards, and parks.

But the approximate $15 million system has been delayed by funding challenges and regulatory hurdles, including permission from water quality officials to use the tertiary treated effluent for irrigation.

Healdsburg officials believe Gov. Jerry Brown's drought proclamation in January and the state water board's policy encouraging water reclamation and reuse gives the city the authority to immediately go ahead with irrigation.

"It opens some doors we didn't feel were open before," City Manager Marjie Pettus said Thursday.

Reclaimed water has been used for years in Sonoma County and other parts of California. In Windsor, it's used to irrigate parks, some subdivision lawns and sports fields. Santa Rosa sprays wastewater on pastures, and close to the Sonoma-Napa County line it's used on vineyards in the exclusive Carneros appellation.

Healdsburg officials said the North Coast Water Quality Control Board has previously asked for more technical work by Healdsburg, including a detailed plan of how it will monitor a reuse program for things like leaks and puddling of water.

"Why is it to difficult for us to get approvals to use tertiary treated (water) for irrigation when other agencies are doing it?" Pettus said Thursday. "It feels like we're held to a different, higher standard."

The meeting today is for the City Council to consider declaring a drought emergency and authorizing the immediate expenditure of funds to begin the delivery of recycled water.

It would enable the city to spend approximately $750,000 for pumps and a connecting pipeline from the Foreman Lane wastewater treatment plant to the end of Kinley Drive.

Healdsburg Public Works Director Terry Crowley said the pipeline could be running in about two months and irrigate at least 300 acres of vineyards near the treatment plant. He calculated that alone would save around 25 million gallons of potable water.

City Manager Pettus acknowledged some growers are still reluctant to use recycled water in vineyards. "We've been doing a lot of testing to to prove it won't have an adverse impact," she said.

"To the largest extent, it meets drinking water standards," said Crowley. "It's very, very clean water."

He said it meets federal and state standards for drinking water, other than not being chlorinated.

Mayor Wood said Healdsburg is trying to help grape growers and the agricultural community survive the drought, which has been described as the worst in more than a century of record keeping.

"If it weren't for agriculture, there wouldn't be wine or food and as much desire for people to come to our community," he said.

Yet to be determined is whether the reclaimed water would be free, or if there would be a nominal charge, according to Wood.

(You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.)