WatchSonoma Watch

Healdsburg approves plan to use wastewater to irrigate vineyards


Wastewater and winegrapes may not seem like a complementary pairing, but they soon will be in Healdsburg.

The City Council on Monday unanimously approved a project to irrigate more than 300 acres of vineyards with highly treated wastewater from Healdsburg’s new state-of-the-art treatment plant.

The reclaimed water could be used as early as next summer on vineyards owned by Syar Industries that surround the $32 million plant west of town.

Reclaimed water has been used for years on wine grapes and other crops in parts of Sonoma County that include the prestigious Carneros region, according to Jim Flugum, Healdsburg’s assistant public works director.

“It’s not new. It’s just new in the northern part of the county,” he said.

The city had to get the approval of state water regulatory officials and address the concerns of clean-water advocates before it could proceed.

“It has been a tortuous path to get to this point,” said Councilman Tom Chambers. The city has “gone beyond what was required,” with technical studies and a well-monitoring program to show that it is safe.

Healdsburg officials are proud of the city’s new wastewater plant, which opened in 2008.

“Our water quality is much higher than average reclaimed water,” said Mayor Jim Wood.

“We’ve done test after test to show this water is good,” noted Councilman Gary Plass. “From my standpoint, it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Highly treated wastewater produced in Sonoma Valley irrigates vineyards, pastures, golf courses and playgrounds. It also is used to restore a saltwater marsh.

Santa Rosa’s regional wastewater system uses more than one billion gallons of highly treated wastewater to irrigate more than 6,000 acres of farmland and vineyards.

Even though the state considers the effluent safe enough to fill swimming pools, its use can still be controversial. North County residents and grape growers raised concerns last year about the Sonoma County Water Agency’s plan to use treated wastewater on farms and vineyards.

Critics said use of the treated wastewater on thin, porous soils could contaminate groundwater and wells.

The project would have brought treated wastewater from Santa Rosa and Windsor, using a system of 19 reservoirs and more than 100 miles of pipeline to provide irrigation for farmers and vintners in Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River valleys.

Conceding it lacked the funding and the customers to pull off the giant project, the Water Agency last year shelved it.

In Healdsburg, the contract with Syar is still being finalized. In essence, Syar will get the water free for five years if it uses a minimum 25 million gallons annually. The city’s portion of the construction cost is about $50,000.

Healdsburg for years has discharged its wastewater into a rock quarry pond next to the Russian River, but as a result of court cases, had to upgrade the quality of the effluent and develop another method of disposing of it during the summer.

An engineering firm is nearly done designing a project that will allow Healdsburg to use the water to irrigate the city’s parks, playgrounds and golf courses during the summer.

The irrigation system is estimated to cost between $10 million and $14 million, but funding has not been secured.

6 Responses to “Healdsburg approves plan to use wastewater to irrigate vineyards”

  1. Steveguy says:

    Can we see the test results and what they tested for ? How in-depth were the tests ?

    The Dry Creek Valley Association totally rejected the Water Agency’s plan in part because they wouldn’t tell them what is in the water.

    There are numerous chemicals that make it past tertiary treatment. I would not take their word about the test results. Complete tests.

  2. Let us not forget that the wastewater treatment plant is not capable of removing the chemicals used in municipal-water fluoridation. According to my research and from what I have been told by others with more knowledge on the subject than I, the only water-filtration system which is capable of removing these harsh toxins and heavy metals is a reverse-osmosis system. They are prohibitively expensive for most people, since they come with a price tag of around $2,000. Most regional wastewater-treatment plants around the world do not utilitze this system of filtration for the wastewater which they treat.

    Question: Has anyone ever tested any of the wines which are produced using treated wastewater for toxins, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, etc? My guess is that they have not, but I could be wrong. My point is that it is a well-known fact in agriculture that plants, trees and vines which are exposed to high soil levels of a certain chemical will take that chemical up, and it will then be in the resulting agricultural commodity which that plant produces. Have you ever tasted bitter lettuce? How do think it got that way? From too much chemical nitrogenous fertilizer.

    Thankfully, I do not consume wine. But now that wastewater is going to be utilized by some vineyards for the production of wine, which many people in this county DO, indeed, consume, I will ask you this question: “Sonoma County wines: What’s in YOUR bottle?”

    Do you really know?

  3. Elephant says:

    Treatment of wastewater does NOT remove pharmaceuticals. Measurable amounts of everything from heroin down to aspirin can be detected. Anybody here want traces of that in their wine?

    But then reading that this is a sweetheart deal for Syar, aka the corporation that has been allowed to systematically destroy the Russian River and it’s aquifer for decades, is no surprise to me.

  4. Max says:

    Partially treated sewage contains UNKNOWN chemical dangers. NO ONE KNOWS what is in it due to unpredictable chemical reactions that can take amongst the pollutants that remain AFTER treatment. This clear danger is called “emerging toxicants.” It is impossible for anyone to know if partially treated sewage is safe.
    Transformation of Acetaminophen by Chlorination Produces the Toxicants 1,4-Benzoquinone and N-Acetyl-pbenzoquinone Imine. What does this mean? It means that ordinary TYLENOL® when exposed to chlorine can produce two new poisons neither of which entered the waste stream. In other words, partially treated sewage JUST SITTING THERE is making new UNPREDICTABLE poisons. This hazardous material should never be released into waterways or dumped on ground where it might contaminate an underground aquifer.

  5. Matt Wells says:

    SRJCs Shone Farm uses Windsor waste water on their vineyards with no problem at all.

  6. Stephen Gale says:

    Kudos to the Healdsburg City Council for approving the reuse of highly treated recycled water for vineyard irrigation. The idea is not new in Sonoma County and it is a highly effective strategy.

    According to an article in the September-October 2009 issue of Vineyard & Winery Management written by Glenn McGourty of Mendocino County, there are a significant number of wineries and vineyards — both large and small — who have been using recycled water from municipal operations or from treatment of their own winery wastewater for some time with great success. One well known, award winning Sonoma County winery was cited as using beetween 25 and 35 million gallons of recycled water annually for irrigation and frost protection.

    This approach — using recycled water for irrigation and frost protection — recognizes the need for agriculture to engage in water conservation and helps to ensure sustainable practices that will keep our unique character as a “rural county” that also boasts the largest city north of the Golden Gate.

    Meeting our future needs for water requires conservation by agricultural users as well as residential users and commercial concerns. This action by Healdsburg is a significant step in the right direction.