NEWMAN - The city’s vision of eventually transforming 103 acres of property on its eastern outskirts into a natural filtration system for storm drain flows recently took a significant step forward.

City officials learned that Newman has been awarded a grant of more than $600,000 from the California Department of Fish and Game to develop a seasonal wetlands on 10 acres of the property.

“This is the first piece of a bigger project that we are working on that will treat storm water and ag tail water,” said Kathryn Reyes, the city’s director of public works. “This is an important first step to bringing the project to fruition.”

Reyes said the city-owned 103 acres of land is located off Brazo Road, near where all storm drain run-off from the city drops into the Miller Ditch on its way to the Newman Wasteway and, ultimately, the San Joaquin River.

The city land is in two parcels, she added, and the initial focus will be on developing the larger of the two, which covers 78 acres.

The city plans to convert that land into a natural filtration system of sorts, with plants and grasses that cleanse the storm and ag water as it flows through the property rather than simply allowing it to flow through the ditch and to the river.

Reyes said the project holds numerous benefits. It could help the city meet its groundwater sustainability requirements, she noted, and potentially some of the treated water could be incorporated into nearby wastewater plant operations rather than going to the river. Because it would be lower in salinity, Reyes said, the treated water would improve the quality of that being treated at the plant.

And, there is a public component as well.

The city hopes to incorporate amenities such as walking paths, bike paths and more into the design.

A planning exercise recently underscored the potential, Reyes noted, as participants came up with ideas  that included amenities such as a group camp, event center, bird habitat, a nature area, botanical gardens and much more.

The city has asked for public input at various community events and will continue to do so as the planning moves forward, Reyes noted.

“We have the vision of having an educational component that the whole West Side and beyond can use to teach people about our water, where it ends up and what it takes to have a good quality of water to discharge into the river,” she told Mattos Newspapers. “It really is about water health and education from the community.

Reyes said she believes the project will provide opportunities for environmental outdoor learning labs that serve groups ranging from young school children to college students.

“It is very multi-faceted, with many benefits,” she stated.

A number of agencies are involved in the process, Reyes indicated.

A UC Merced group, for example, is studying the volume and quality of the ag water that flows through the city’s storm system. The UC Merced work, Reyes said, will help determine how the ag water may be incorporated into the project and whether it requires a separate treatment approach.

That is possible, she noted, because storm flows and ag flows typically occur at different times of the year.

The benefit, Reyes said, is that the two sources of flow provide a year-round supply of water to nurture plants and wildlife.

A consulting firm is studying the feasibility of diverting some of the water to the wastewater plant. 

“We will see if we can reduce salinity in the wastewater treatment plant, which still helps the aquifer,” she commented.

The city has also applied for a Prop. 1 grant which would fund storm drain treatment components of the project, she said, and is seeking Prop. 68 funding for recreational components such as walking trails.

The city will also take steps to remove debris from the water before it enters the filtration system, Reyes pointed out.

That will involve development of a trash capture system in the area of Canal School Road and Inyo Avenue, where the flow leaves the city and enters the ditch. The city faces a mandate and eight-year deadline to install systems which remove debris all the way down to the size of cigarette butts, she noted.

The filtration system will further cleanse the water of sediment, she said, which ultimately benefits whatever end use or discharge point is in the future.

“The goal is to remove all the trash and sediment from the storm water. A lot of stuff runs off from streets and yards that could jeopardize the river,” Reyes explained.

Reyes said the city is likely staying abreast of future regulations with its project.

“The (current) mandate is to capture trash,” she told Mattos Newspapers. “There is no mandate to treat the storm water, but it is coming. Basically, the mandate is to protect the river.”

Approval of the state grant to begin wetlands development signals validation of the project, Reyes reflected.

“That tells us that we have a good project, and that agencies are seeing the value that this project will bring to the area,” she stated.

But, Reyes added, “there is a lot of work to be done to bring this to 100 percent fruition.”