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City of Healdsburg Officials fight to give away Reclaimed Wastewater to Farmers!

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What began with some resistance a few months ago last February, in the Northern California city of Healdsburg, some 70 miles above San Francisco, has come fruition with a rush.

In July 2014 a bold idea developed by four Healdsburg officials; Mayor Jim Woods, Utility Director Terry Crowley, Wastewater Superintendent Ryan Kirchner, & City Engineer Brent Salmin came to life as the taps were opened on their Wastewater Reclamation Program designed to give Drought Relief to Sonoma County Agriculture and Construction.

And they did it for free. Let me just say that again, they did it for free.

“The water had to be treated anyway, so there is no additional cost to anyone, it was languishing in 24 million gallons holding pond, so why not give it to people in need,” said City of Healdsburg Mayor Jim Wood.

The Recycled Water, purified using Micro Filtration or “Membrane Technology”, began being picked up and hauled away by farmers in July. In fact, the rough numbers for July 2014 provided to me by City of Healdsburg Wastewater Supervisor Ryan Kirchner show that some 500,000 gallons were taken by Sonoma County Farmers, in particular Wineries and Vineyards in remote areas.

“A tremendous amount of relief went out to Wineries and Ag in remote locations,” said Ryan Kirchner, “Small, mostly family-run operations encompassing 10 to 20 acres”.

And use it they did, the numbers tripling in August as the City of Healdsburg gave out some 1.5 million gallons of water according to the rough numbers. 663,000 of which were trucked out to farms and wineries throughout Sonoma County. The rest was directly piped to vineyards or construction sites in Reclaimed Wastewater dedicated pipes. Any Contractor or Construction Firm needing the Reclaimed Water to keep down dust on construction sites, mixing cement, or for compacting earth for building foundations may use it.

“We supplied the water that kept the Westside Road Improvement Project on schedule” noted Ryan Kirchner, “And we did it for free.”

The Reclaimed Wastewater is also available for Fire Suppression. “We want people to also know this water is 100% approved for Rural Fire Suppression in Sonoma County.” Said Mayor Wood. This is of tremendous benefit to Sonoma County Residents and Businesses, because Northern California, just like Southern California, is dry as a bone.

There were environmental concerns about the Reclaimed Wastewater leeching back into the groundwater table, but for the past 50 years Los Angeles County has been using Reclaimed Wastewater in this same manner, and in Monterey County, it is used in residential and public landscaping as well as agriculture. The big population is using a similar kind of Treated Reclaimed Wastewater as drinking water.

When I spoke with Healdsburg Mayor Jim Wood he stressed, “This program is 100% voluntary, we are not insisting in any way nor forcing anyone to use this water, but those who want it can come and take and use it to their benefit.”

“All you have to do is come to the plant and apply for a permit, in a day we can get you started,” said Ryan Kirchner. “The City of Healdsburg has made the process very simple.”

The permit is also free, (how often does that happen?) All you need is a vehicle specifically for transporting the water, which is inspected on-site, and some basic BMP’s (Best Management Practices) review. The foremost being; All storage of Reclaimed Water from the City of Healdsburg must be contained in a “lined” storage area. That means absolutely no earthen storage such as in an unlined pond. A “lined” pond is acceptable but pond water evaporates, so a Water Tank is the best way to store this water.

“People do not know about the process of treating wastewater, let alone about the program, and there is some natural hesitation when you hear the term “Reclaimed Wastewater”, but our plant is state of the art, built-in 2008 and according to all State & Federal Recycled – Water standards, standards this water is perfectly safe,” said Ryan Kirchner.

So, I had to ask him … “How safe is it?”

With the number of testing requirements and monitoring required for this recycled water, we know more about what is in our recycled water than we know what is in most surface water sources in Sonoma County.”

The City of Healdsburg has helped keep farms from going under, kept hardworking people employed, and public works projects on schedule. It also is providing a free resource to help protect homes and businesses from fire. The only thing missing is the water is not approved for livestock, but that may come.

They are in fact a Municipal City Service (These are the “Water Bill” Guys for goodness sakes) reaching out and providing direct economic relief and assistance to farms and builders. That is something that does not happen too often anymore in any city, county, or state and deserves commendation no matter what side of the debate you stand on.

In fact, Ryan Kirchner and Mayor Wood were both very humble when speaking about the program. Mayor Jim Wood relayed to me, “Since 2007 I have been wanting to see a program like this benefits agriculture, provide drought relief, and fight fires in Sonoma County for a very long time. It is wonderful to see it finally happen.”

And all of it Economically Prudent – Sustainable – Green – Eco-Friendly, not to mention reducing our impact on the watersheds, by using reclaimed wastewater in lieu of freshwater or treated potable water.

With the institutions of American Farming and Building – Construction under siege here is an example of a city and its officials stepping up and lending a hand where it is needed to preserve jobs, businesses, and American Agrarian culture. There is an omnipresent need to protect the Napa Valley-based California Wine Industry, and the diversity of employment it generates both direct and ancillary. Think about all the farmworkers, bottle companies, farm supply businesses, trucking, engineers, and architects. Now kick that up to the national level, transportation, grocery clerks, and salespeople. It is staggering to consider all the jobs the California Wine Industry creates.

Imagine if that industry was gone… Closed due to lack of water. Just look at what is happening to the Cattle Industry in Australia if you want to see a possible prelude of things to come.

All of us here at National Water Tank hope the program expands, and is perhaps adopted by other counties and cities in Northern California, maybe even around the country.