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Frequently Asked Questions about the new West Hills Water Treatment Plant

Frequently asked questions on the new West Hills Water Treatment Plant and the Hollister Urban Area Water Project

What is the Hollister Urban Area Water Project?

The Hollister Urban Area Water Project (HUAWP) is a water project that improves the Hollister area’s water quality and supply. The Lessalt Water Treatment Plant (WTP) was a first step more than 10 years ago. The next step was to increase the use of high-quality surface water by constructing the new West Hills WTP and upgrading the Lessalt WTP.

What is its purpose?

The primary goal of the HUAWP is to improve the quality and reliability of our drinking water to ensure a better economy and ensure a better quality of life for the residents of our community.

How will the HUAWP improve my water quality?

The Project improves the quality of our drinking water supply by maximizing the use of surface water from a variety of sources, including Central Valley Project (CVP) water. Surface water has less minerals and salts than groundwater because groundwater is in contact with geologic formations for a longer period of time than surface water.

Will I still need to use a water softener?

Self-regenerating water softeners that empty into a public sewer system have been banned in the City of Hollister and Sunnsylope County Water District service areas. This includes the entire Hollister Urban Area. If you already own a self-regenerating water softener that uses salt and/or potassium you do not need to remove it. However, when your current self-regenerating water softener stops functioning you cannot replace it with a self-regenerating water softener that uses salt and/or potassium. You are allowed to use an offsite exchange service where a fresh container is delivered to your home at set intervals and the salty brine is hauled away to be processed at a commercial facility outside of our county. You are also allowed to install salt-free alternatives to condition the water.

Now that the HUAWP is completed our water supply has much lower mineral content. In most areas a water softener will not be needed. However, individual preferences vary dramatically. Using a water softener is a highly subjective decision.

The Water Resources Association of San Benito County (WRASBC) offers a rebate for those that are demolishing their old, self-regulating water softeners. If you demolish your old water softener or buy a salt-free alternative to take its place, a $300 rebate is offered. If you transition over to an offsite service, a minimum 1-year service contract is required and a $250 rebate is issued.

Call the WRASBC if you would like to participate in the demolishing program or if you need information on salt-free alternatives to water conditioning. They can be reached at (831) 637-4378.

How are Hollister area water customers benefiting from the project?

The HUAWP will have these direct benefits for residents:

  • High-quality water with less salt
  • Eliminates the need for water softeners
  • Longer life for appliances
  • Less need to buy bottled water because taste will be improved due to lower salt content

Will reduced deliveries of CVP water (surface water) affect the surface water treatment plants?

During drought periods surface water allocations from the CVP, determined by the Bureau of Reclamation, are often reduced. However, Municipal and industrial (M&I) allocations have a higher reliability than agriculture during drought. The SBCWD has a plan to prepare for potential reductions in supply by banking water in commercial water banks and cooperating with water agencies to purchase water from irrigation districts that traditionally sell water during a drought.

How will improved water quality help with wastewater discharge compliance?

By improving the water quality of water going into homes and businesses, the wastewater leaving the homes is of better quality and can be treated to a higher quality at the water reclamation plants.

The Hollister Wastewater Reclamation Plant has improved wastewater discharges and allows us to produce recycled water for agricultural use, stretch local water supplies and protect the groundwater basin. The completed upgrades to the Ridgemark Wastewater Treatment Plant will allow the Sunnyslope County Water District to meet its discharge requirements and also protect the groundwater basin.

Will the project include recycled water for agriculture?

Yes, currently the City’s Reclamation Plant is producing recycled water. However, due to high mineral content in our water supply (groundwater) before improvements were made, many people own water softeners in the Hollister Urban Area. The salty brine created after a water softener regenerates soft water enters our sewer system and we end up with poor quality recycled water. By using more surface water for our drinking water supply water softeners will not be needed. The combination of surface water and fewer water softeners help us produce high-quality recycled water that can be used to irrigate high-value crops.

How will the project and enhance the local groundwater basin?

By using surface water with fewer minerals, wastewater discharge from the reclamation plant will also have a lower mineral content. This will reduce the amount of additional minerals percolating into our groundwater supply and help protect our groundwater basin.

What if we did nothing?

If we did nothing to improve our local water quality, we most likely would have faced fines and penalties and be forced to provide water supply improvements under orders from state regulators. This could be more costly for ratepayers and harm the local economy. Taking no action was not considered a viable option.


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Shawn Novack's picture
Shawn Novack (Shawn Novack)

Shawn Novack is the director of the Water Resources Association of San Benito County. The Association represents the City of Hollister, the City of San Juan Bautista, the Sunnyslope County Water District and the San Benito County Water District for all their water conservation and water resource protection programs. Shawn has been in the field of water conservation for 16 years. He has a certification as a Water Conservation Practioner from the American Water Works Association California/Nevada Chapter. He also is a Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor through the Irrigation Association in Virginia. Before getting into the water industry, Shawn worked as a technical writer for the Naval Research Center in Monterey.


Mr. Novak: Thank you for the informative article. I do have a few semi-technical questions/comments:

  • Please advise what the seasonal ratio of ground water to treated surface water respective of the service area of the City of Hollister and Sunnyslope County Water District in order to meet 'peek demand'; i.e. summer time peak demand is 2 mgd with 60/40 ratio of treated surface water to ground water supplies (well water). Winter time peak demand is (or projected to be) 1 mgd with 90/10 ratio of treated surface water to ground water supplies.
  • While I am a big fan of this project, I think consumers/ratepayers should understand that certain areas of the potable water distribution system will not get the benefits of improved water quality if they live next to a ground water well in production and operated by the City of Hollister and/or Sunnyslope County Water District, based on my experience. 
  • Does HUAWP plan to provide a schematic or plat map online that indicates the relative primary and secondary water quality parameters, i.e. hardness as reported by distribution system operators during weekly representative water quality sample collections from dedicated sample collection points? If not, why not?
  • In years past, I've observed Sunnyslope County water distribution system operators collecting water quality samples from fire hydrants which is contrary to potable water industry best management practices. Experience has shown that public fire hydrants are not locked/secured and water quality samples collected from such resources tend to indicate false positive BACTI samples. Is this still a common practice at Sunnyslope or the City of Hollister? 

Many thanks for your consideration.


Hi Shawn,

Could you please expound on Mike’s second question/comment? Thanks. 

Submitted by (water guru) on

Answer #1 Bullet point: The agencies target is a 60/40 surface water to groundwater blend. But at minimum demand the ratio of surface water to groundwater may go up due to minimum treatment plant flow requirement.

Answer #2: Water for City of Hollister residents is blended at the well head. Therefore, all city residents will get the same quality. For Sunnyslope customers the Cross Town Pipeline will allow for blending at the well head when completed. The Crosstown Pipeline is in the design phase right now and is expected to be completed in the next 2-3 years.

Answer #3: Sunnyslope and the City do not plan to post a map online showing water quality because it is quite variable and can change depending on demands throughout the day and week as well as seasonally. Water quality can also change due to planned and unplanned maintenance and repair issues so any map would be a snapshot in time and not necessarily representative in real time.

Answer #4: Samples are taken in a few locations from fire hydrants for chlorine residual, conductivity, and pH. All bacteria and other water quality samples are taken from sample stations that have been installed specifically for that purpose.

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