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Sacramento Looks To Ease Farmers' Groundwater Use With Wastewater

ELK GROVE (CBS13) — An interesting idea to conserve groundwater is gaining momentum in the competition for state funding. The California Water Commission will soon make a decision on what water conservation projects across the state get funding.

The decision is part of the Proposition 1 Water Bond which allocates $2.7 billion for water storage projects.

For decades, Ken Oneto with KLM Ranches has been pumping groundwater to irrigate his fields. But there is a new plan in the works to supplement Sacramento farmer's freshwater usage.

Highly treated wastewater that is used for agricultural purposes.

"We're spending close to $2 billion to upgrade the treatment process," said Prabhakar Somavarapu, the district manager for the Sacramento County Sanitation District, "When the upgrade is complete, we'll have the water available for recycling."

He says once the treatment plant expansion is complete, more than 95 percent of all wastewater they bring in will be available for agriculture use.

"This would definitely help the region in managing the groundwater's better," said Somavarapu.

Last week the district received high marks on the second phase, which requires state funding, to build the infrastructure to deliver the treated water to farms.

"Take this high-quality recycled water and send it to the agriculture," said Somavarapu.

"I think it's a great use of that water," said Oneto.

There is broad support for the plan, but still, some questions remain.

"How are we going to pick up the water and be able to use it in our existing irrigation system?" asked Oneto.

And while the water quality passes all the state and federal standards, Oneto says some buyer's food safety regulations restrict his potential usage of recycled water.

"I will not be able to use it on my fresh produce," said Oneto.

The innovative approach to water storage costs about $300 million. The California Water Commission will be holding hearings in late June with a decision on how to disperse the funding by early July.

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