By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Healdsburg, which a decade ago objected to its streets being torn up to build Santa Rosa’s pipeline to The Geysers geothermal field, now wants to connect to the system to dispose of its own wastewater.
The Healdsburg City Council last week authorized the city manager and public works director to pursue grant and loan funds to include a connection from its new sewer treatment plant to Santa Rosa’s nearby pipeline.
The move is prompted by financial and regulatory hurdles to a $14.5 million wastewater irrigation system Healdsburg has been planning to use in vineyards, parks and open space.
Currently, the city discharges its wastewater into the Russian River but is under a deadline to end the practice by October 2014.
“We are under a mandate as part of our operating permit with the Regional Water Quality Control board to not discharge a million gallons a day of highly treated reclaimed water into the river,” said Healdsburg City Councilman Jim Wood. “We have been working with trying to come up with solutions.”
To help meet the deadline, the city is looking to send most of the 158 million gallons it produces during the dry months of May through September to The Geysers, where it would be converted to steam and electricity.
Santa Rosa has been operating The Geysers recharge system since 2003, disposing of wastewater from its regional treatment plant 41 miles away.
The irony of Healdsburg seeking to connect to the pipeline was not lost on its officials.
When the the pipeline was under construction, Santa Rosa had to sue Healdsburg to obtain approval to use portions of two Healdsburg streets for the line.
Healdsburg wanted about $1 million in cash and improvements from Santa Rosa to allow the pipeline to be built, but in the end settled for $468,000 in money and services.
“The negotiations with Santa Rosa will be interesting, depending on how many people remember what took place there,” said Healdsburg Councilman Gary Plass.
At the time of the court settlement in 2002, then Healdsburg Mayor Mark Gleason said it was never the intent of the city to stop the project, although Healdsburg would have preferred that the pipeline skirt the city.
Instead, a 640-foot-long section of the pipeline runs beneath Dry Creek Road and a 1,720-foot stretch is under Healdsburg Avenue.
Healdsburg Public Works Director Mike Kirn said discussions and preliminary negotiations with Santa Rosa have gone well.
“We’re looking in the windshield and not the rear-view mirror,” he said. “It’s a business deal. They have been very receptive to our requests.”
A consultant’s report notes that Healdsburg previously considered hooking into The Geysers pipeline but dismissed that option due to a lack of capacity in the system. Since then, Santa Rosa expanded the program to handle almost twice as much wastewater.
Santa Rosa agreed recently to allow Windsor to connect to The Geysers.
For the access, Windsor will pay Santa Rosa $27 million over nearly three decades, which officials said helps share costs and benefits all ratepayers.
Healdsburg has less than half the population of Windsor and produces less wastewater.
Healdsburg officials said it is uncertain how much Santa Rosa would charge Healdsburg. But the option should be less costly and more convenient for meeting the deadline to stop river discharges.
“It’s less capital investment at this point in time,” said Kirn.
Healdsburg has not given up on an urban and agricultural irrigation option, but officials said vineyard owners who would use the wastewater have balked at some of the monitoring requirements.
In addition to connecting to The Geysers pipeline, Healdsburg for the time being will pursue a more limited irrigation plan. It involves construction of a holding pond and distribution system to spread its treated wastewater at Tayman Golf Course and Oak Mound cemetery.
The initial irrigation plan and pipeline connection is pegged at $8.5 million, which would be financed primarily with a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.