Guest View: Grand jury report highlights merits of water project

By Don Ridenhour, Hollister Free Lance, 8/8/14

The San Benito County Grand Jury has performed a tremendous service to county residents by highlighting the benefits of the Hollister Urban Area Water Project (HUAWP) in its 2013-2014 report. As the “Watchdogs of the Community,” the Grand Jury is a neutral, non-partisan group of citizens who are responsible for investigating public agencies and organizations and determine if they are operating in the best interests of San Benito County as a whole. We applaud the effort involved in producing the entire report and appreciate the time and energy it demands.

One of the subjects of this year’s Grand Jury report was the Sunnyslope County Water District (SSCWD), which is one of the members of the HUAWP, a partnership with the City of Hollister and the San Benito County Water District. The Grand Jury found that SSCWD’s improvements to the Ridgemark Wastewater Treatment Plant were in the best interests of the district’s ratepayers and was the most viable option.

As part of its investigation into SSCWD, the Grand Jury also found that the HUAWP is on track in its efforts to improve local water quality, ensure economic stability and contribute to a better quality of life for the entire community. The report states: “In reviewing HUAWP, it ensures access to high quality water, by adding more surface water to the mix, thus reinforcing the reliability and availability of water for the economic vitality of all residents. It does this while simultaneously making it possible to reduce the salt concentration in our ground water. This is a very important achievement if realized.”

That achievement is currently being realized. Improvements to the Lessalt Water Treatment Plant are on schedule to be completed in November, to be followed by construction of the West Hills Water Treatment Plant. Together, these projects will improve water quality for drinking water customers, protect the groundwater basin and help meet wastewater discharge requirements.

The Grand Jury did not overlook the issue of the costs and benefits of the project. The report notes that “The only real discussion is whether the benefits justify the costs. To be sure, only time will tell.” But its authors also acknowledge that “while other communities may have lower rates in the short term, the inevitable will happen. They too will need to increase their capacity or improve their water quality. This is an expensive and immutable reality.” On the whole, the Grand Jury’s findings concluded that “the merits of the HUAWP are substantial and, in the view of the Grand Jury, necessary.”

It is gratifying as water managers to have the support of the Grand Jury. We know that raising rates is never a popular notion, and we appreciate the economic challenges we all face. As public agencies, we strive to be fiscally responsible. But as the Grand Jury report points out, maintaining and protecting our water quality “is an expensive and immutable reality.” We remain committed to our mission to deliver high-quality water that will ensure our economic stability and contribute to a better quality of life for our entire community.

For more information about the HUAWP, visit

Don Ridenhour is the General Manager of the Sunnyslope County Water District.

Our Water Future Requires Vision

Support the Hollister Urban Area Water Project

by Robert Swanson
BenitoLink, Tuesday, 07/30/2013 – 09:01am

The health and prosperity of San Benito County has always depended on a reliable source of water. As a former member of the San Benito County Water District and a lifelong resident of this area, I know that developing a reliable water supply requires vision and commitment.

The construction of the Paicines Canal and Reservoir in 1913, Hernandez Reservoir in 1962, and the approval and implementation of the San Felipe Project in 1977 are examples of sound, long-range vision and leadership. Water managers and elected officials knew that these projects were critical in protecting our local groundwater basin and providing enough water for residents and our agricultural community. The San Felipe Project brought water from the Central Valley Project into San Benito County and allowed our agricultural community to flourish.

A plan is now under way to maintain and protect our local water resources and ensure that current and future generations can continue to enjoy the high quality of life we have in the Hollister area. The Hollister Urban Area Water Project builds upon the past efforts of civic leaders to protect our groundwater basin, and make sure it is available during times of drought.

The Hollister Urban Area Water Project has been in the works for more than a decade. It is a collaborative effort by three local agencies, the San Benito County Water District, City of Hollister, and Sunnyslope County Water District, to solve a regional problem. By increasing the capacity to treat water imported from the Central Valley Project, residents throughout Hollister, including the west side of Hollister will receive higher-quality, better-tasting water.

This high-quality water will reduce the need for water softeners and it will provide better tasting water. Another important benefit is that better drinking water will also improve the quality of the wastewater discharged by our local treatment plants.

The improvement to the wastewater discharge is critical. Wastewater discharged locally is percolated back into our groundwater basin, which is naturally high in salts and minerals. By reducing the amount of salt in our wastewater it in turn protects the quality of water in our groundwater basin. Farmers, other well owners, and municipalities also utilize the groundwater basin. Protecting the quality of our groundwater is important to all water users in San Benito County.

Yet another benefit of improved wastewater is that the highly treated water can then be used as recycled water to irrigate high-value crops, instead of being discharged to percolation ponds. The use of recycled water for high-value crops is a common practice in many places, including Monterey County where it is used to irrigate thousands of acres of lettuce and strawberries. This reduces the pressure on surface and groundwater supplies and allows the beneficial reuse of a precious resource.

We rely on water every day in our lives and our livelihoods. We can never take it for granted. The Hollister Urban Area Water Plan provides the type of vision and forethought that our forefathers had when they sought to bring San Felipe Water to the community. We are now again called to make decisions with future generations in mind. Let’s step up and get this project done.

Bob Swanson
Hollister Area Rancher,
Former Director, San Benito County Water District

Our Water Problem Has a Solution

Poor ground water quality can be fixed with the proper technology

by Douglas Keck
BenitoLink, on Tue, 07/23/2013 – 02:01pm

Hollister has an on-going water quality problem.

Most people living in the greater Hollister community would agree with that statement. A solution is being proposed that will provide reliable, high-quality drinking water and support a better quality of life for everyone in our community.

Our groundwater is full of salts and minerals and requires the use of water softeners to deal with the hardness and the purchase of bottled water for drinking. Bottled water and water softeners are expensive. In addition, water softeners use salt that ends up in our wastewater. This prevents our wastewater treatment plants from meeting state discharge requirements, which could result in fines and penalties. The discharge is too salty for irrigation of most crops and must percolate back into the groundwater, further increasing the concentration of salts and minerals. It’s a vicious circle. But there is a solution.

Three local agencies are collaborating on a Hollister Urban Area Water Project (HUAWP), which will increase the water treatment capacity of surface water from the San Luis Reservoir. The City of Hollister, Sunnyslope County Water District and San Benito County Water District are working together on the $30 million project that will upgrade the existing Lessalt Water Treatment Plant and build a new West Hills Water Treatment Plant. It will also construct new pipelines to allow distribution of high-quality drinking water to City of Hollister and Sunnyslope water customers.

While the most prominent result of the project is better-tasting water, there are other benefits too. Higher-quality water will reduce the need for water softeners. Reduced minerals in the water will increase the life of appliances, such as water heaters, clothes washers and dishwashers. Better water will reduce the need to buy bottled water, a significant household expense for many. Cutting down on salt in our wastewater will protect our groundwater basin, which provides vital water storage and is an emergency water source during earthquakes.

Improving our water quality will require increased water rates for many customers. The rate increases will vary, depending on how much water you use and which agency provides your water. A rate calculator for City of Hollister customers is available at

The proposed water rates for the Sunnyslope County Water District are available on the District website at

While the project will increase water rates, in many cases the increases will be offset by savings in the form of a reduced need for water softeners and salt, bottled water and appliance replacement.

Reliable and high-quality water is important to a healthy, vibrant community and a stable economy. By improving water quality, we can help to ensure a better quality of life for our entire community now, and for future generations.

Doug Keck
Former board member
San Benito County Water District
Suunyslope County Water District
Retired Educator