The Pleasanton City Council postponed its discussion on a proposed "task order" -- with a potential $250,000 pricetag for Pleasanton -- for more regional studies into potable reuse in the Tri-Valley last week, but a handful of residents still had plenty to say about the contract.
City staff recommends Pleasanton sign on to a potentially $1 million task order with three other Tri-Valley public water agencies for preliminary studies and community outreach and education under the ongoing "Tri-Valley Intergovernmental Reciprocal Services Master Agreement" to explore the possibility of supplementing the local water supply with recycled water treated for drinking purposes, better known as potable reuse water.
The task order was listed on the consent calendar for the council's Feb. 4 regular meeting, but the item was delayed to a future meeting without any discussion by the council for unspecified reasons.
Five residents who saw the item on the original agenda still had the opportunity to speak on the task order at the Feb. 4 meeting, expressing their concerns about potable reuse and surprise the contract had even been proposed as a consent matter.
"For the Tri-Valley, (potable reuse) is still not ready for prime time here," Laurene Green, a water resources engineer in Pleasanton and candidate for the Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors in the primary election, told the council.
"I can't image how it's possible this even made it onto the consent agenda," Paulette Salisbury said, later adding she was glad the task order wasn't "slipping through and not having any more public scrutiny."
A topic that resurfaced amid water supply debates during the drought, potable reuse in the Tri-Valley was the subject of joint technical feasibility study several years ago among Zone 7, the cities of Pleasanton and Livermore, the Dublin San Ramon Services District and the California Water Service Company's Livermore division.
The study, whose results were released almost two years ago, concluded the concept of a potable reuse project in the Tri-Valley was feasible based on regulatory, technical and financial considerations.
When reviewing the feasibility report in May 2018, Pleasanton council members voiced support for more technical studies and a more updated evaluation of the region's water supply. But they also made it clear they want their voters to weigh in at some point in the process, either earlier on with a ballot question about supporting the general concept or later when a final project proposal is available.
For council members at the time, there was a desire to hear directly from Pleasanton residents on the question of potable reuse -- would there be public support for treating wastewater for use as drinking water in the city, especially the so-called "ick factor" or the stigma of monikers like "toilet-to-tap."
The debate picked up momentum again last summer when the Tri-Valley Water Liaison Committee supported further analysis of a potential regional potable reuse project.
The committee, which consists of elected officials from the four public agencies plus corporate representation from Cal Water, a private company, has backed the concept for general scope of the further study with Zone 7 serving as the lead agency, according to Kathleen Yurchak, city director of operations and water utilities.
"The committee determined that joint collaborative efforts by the Tri-Valley water agencies should be undertaken to: 1) further technical and institutional study of potable reuse, 2) continue to evaluate other water supply reliability options, and 3) develop a community outreach/engagement program to educate the Tri-Valley residents and businesses on the region's water supply challenges and potential solutions," Yurchak wrote in her Feb. 4 staff report to the council.
The proposal calls for the two cities, DSRSD and Zone 7 -- as the public water agencies -- to evenly split the costs of the new preliminary studies and community outreach and education up to $1 million total. Cal Water could participate and reimburse its pro-rated share, if given approval from corporate leaders and the California Public Utilities Commission.
To cover Pleasanton's portion, city staff recommends dedicating up to $250,000 to the endeavor from the capital improvement program budget.
That proposed task order was scheduled on the City Council's Feb. 4 consent calendar, a collection of items deemed routine in nature and voted upon all at once without discussion unless pulled for separate consideration that night.
But at the outset of the meeting, City Manager Nelson Fialho announced the item was being taken off the agenda and postponed to the following meeting. (That date was later pushed out.)
As a result, the council members did not discuss potable reuse among the dais, since it was no longer on their night's agenda, but they allowed residents in attendance to speak on the issue during the non-agenda public comment portion of the meeting.
The five speakers were generally critical.
"To begin with, we still can't identify all possible contaminants in our sewer waters," Green said. "The difficulty of keeping up with new, dangerous and unregulated chemicals makes this very problematic and hard to guarantee safety. If you want to understand why this is so important, look no further than the PFAS problem we are now challenged with."
Green also raised concerns about permit standards, costs for operation and maintenance, disguising marketing efforts as "communications" with the public and moving forward with more studies without an advisory vote from Pleasanton residents on the potable reuse issue.
"I'm really concerned about the quality of our water, our drinking water, and I want to make sure there's no advancement towards potable reuse projects in Pleasanton," Salisbury said. "We're not going to stand by and let this happen because we're not a silent public in this community.
"Seeing this item come up on the consent agenda didn't strike me as quite the right way to handle it," resident Pierre Bierre said. "I read the (staff) report and although I realize this is a study of potable reuse, I feel as though we should be looking much more broadly at our options for water supply reliability."
"What I'd like to see us working on in terms of options is the idea that rainwater should remain the raw material source of choice for drinking, gardening and agricultural hydration," Bierre added, advocating for better collection and storage of rainwater in the Tri-Valley.
The potable reuse task order has been tentatively rescheduled for one of the council meetings in March.