Reclaiming and Recycling Water Is a Great Idea

In 2019, the City of Ukiah completed three of the four phases required to build a water recycling system, often referred to as the purple pipe project. The fourth phase is currently underway.

As of now, the City produces about 1,000-acre feet of recycled water annually, which it uses for agricultural irrigation, parks, the golf course, schools, and industrial needs (things like dust control). Although it is rare for me to praise government projects, this one is a good one.

The project reduces the amount of water pumped from aquifers, rivers, and lakes. It meets State water conservation objectives, promotes a healthy agriculture sector, and improves fish habitat. It’s a win all around.

You should know that the purple pipe project is not related to a new California state law that allows effluent from sewage treatment plants to be turned into drinking water. However, this law is also a good idea (even though the idea of drinking treated wastewater makes us shudder).

The fact is, we have a limited amount of fresh water in the world, and although we don’t like to think about it, water from our sewer systems eventually ends up back in our taps (via nature’s filtration system).

This new law allows man to take the place of nature in the filtration equation. The material I’ve read assures us that the water treated by this system will be so clean (cleaner than we can get from existing wells or our current water system), that they will have to add minerals back into the water to give it taste. If you’ve ever tasted distilled water, you know it has no flavor at all, unlike the pleasant taste of our tap water.

Water is a contentious subject because it is fundamental to our very survival. Mark Twain allegedly said, “Whisky’s for drinking. Water’s for fighting over.”

That fight takes place throughout California, from the Bay Area Delta to Los Angeles (where much of our water ends up). We also have controversy right here in Mendocino County.

Scott Dam, which creates Lake Pillsbury, is probably not long for this world. Currently, PG&E is licensed to run the hydropower plant associated with Scott Dam, but PG&E has announced it will not renew its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit. Decommissioning the power plant means Scott Dam will be removed, which means no more Lake Pillsbury. For more details, including a whole bunch of history, visit

Removing the dam will reduce the availability of water—especially during the dry season—that comes down from the Eel River through Lake Pillsbury and the Van Arsdale Reservoir to Potter Valley through Lake Mendocino and on to Sonoma County and eventually Marin County. About 600,000 people have grown reliant on water from that bypass at Lake Pillsbury. If the bypass goes away, it will impact a lot of people.

One of the current plans is to allow a seasonal bypass of water from the headwaters of Eel River, which would come only in times of excess. That is, it would likely fill Lake Mendocino in winter and spring as opposed to providing any water during summer when we need it.

Some folks think a sustained bypass from the Eel River is a good idea, but I don’t know the mechanics of all that. If Scott Dam is removed, Potter Valley will face similar water challenges as Redwood Valley. This is stressing out a lot of farmers and ranchers.
If your district is anticipating a new county supervisor, it might not be a bad idea to find out what their feelings on water are and take those ideas into consideration when you vote. If you feel strongly about this, let your supervisor know.

The good news for those on city water is that the City of Ukiah sits on a huge aquifer. We draw down only 2-3% each year, which is then replenished with a couple of months’ worth of winter storms. Hydrologists say we have about 500,000 acre-feet of water, and we only use about 8,700 acre-feet per year.

Between our ample groundwater reserve and our purple pipe project, we’re in good shape. For the foreseeable future, our aquifers will provide drinking water and our purple pipe water will keep parks green and crops growing.

If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery.

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