NEWMAN - An innovative project being developed by the city will transform property just east of Newman into a conservation area which naturally filters and cleans storm drain flows while offering outdoor education and recreational opportunities.

The City Council recently approved an expenditure of up to $85,000 to complete environmental studies which will accompany a master plan on the projects.

The city has purchased a 78-acre parcel at southeast corner of Canal School Road and Inyo Avenue as well as a nearby 24-acre parcel located northeast of Brazo Road for the planned Newman Community Conservation Area. Local government is applying for a $6.5 million to $7 million grant to proceed with the first phase of the overall project, construction of a 21-acre wetland complex in the 78-acre parcel which will treat storm drain and dry season runoff from the city and surrounding ag lands.

“This is going to be a tremendous asset to the community,” City Manager Michael Holland said of the project. Not only will the project help the city clean its storm drain flow, he told the council, it will provide residents an abundance of outdoor recreational and educational opportunities.

He outlined the four projects which comprise the conservation area. They include:

• Creation of the Newman Environmental Wetland System, which creates a natural filter to clean storm drain flow before it reaches the Newman Wasteway and, ultimately, the San Joaquin River. That is located in the northwest portion of the 78-acre parcel.

• Development of a 10-acre seasonal wetlands, riparian and grassland restoration project in the southeast portion of the 78-acre parcel and extending into the central portion and extending into center of the smaller parcel.

• In the southwest portion of the 78-acre parcel, construction of up to 10 acres of wetlands being planned in collaboration with UC Merced to treat water from the Miller Ditch and agricultural tail water.

• Development of a community gathering area, outdoor classroom areas, and native plant, rain-wise garden and low impact development demonstration areas in the southeastern most portion of the 78-acre parcel.

A network of unpaved trails with interpretive signage will extend throughout the complex and tie the projects together.

While the pending grant application is only for the initial wetlands construction, Holland explained, the master plan and environmental work encompass the project as a whole.

“We are doing a master plan that talks about each of the projects, and then the (environmental review) for the entire thing at one time,” he said.

Given the merits of the project and because the state has already shown its support for the concept, Holland said, he is optimistic that the city’s grant application for the first phase of wetlands development will be approved.

Letters of support have been received from both UC Merced and Merced County, he noted.

The project, Holland reflected, is innovative.

“This is a project that has not been done in the inland area of the Central Valley. I think a lot of people are excited about that. This site is feasible, and it will work,” he told Mattos Newspapers. “This is a first. It is really big for us.”