WATSONVILLE -- The Watsonville City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a lease for WaterLab, an experimental, wastewater treatment facility to be run by UC Santa Cruz at the city's Water Resource Center.

The project, which is being designed, built and will be run by UCSC students, will be used to test various processes for purifying sewer water into drinking water and other experiments.

"We'd like the students to be experts in advanced water treatment, so that's why we're building this facility," said Brent Haddad, professor of environmental studies and director of WaterLab.

"This facility will be capable of producing drinkable water, although there's no intention of anyone drinking it."
The water used for experimentation by WaterLab will be purified by the city's water treatment plant after WaterLab has conducted its tests.

Haddad said the project will help prepare students for careers in water resources, an expertise he said will be in demand.

"Why Watsonville?" Haddad asked. "You have tomorrow's water challenges today."

Those challenges, Haddad said, include huge agricultural demands on the water supply and the need to protect the Monterey Bay marine ecosystem.

"I appreciate the fact that you have done your research and noticed what a resource you have here," Councilwoman Nancy Bilicich said.

UCSC will pay the city a one-time, $18,000 fee to use the space for five years. Haddad said the project is funded by grants and likely will earn at least $50,000 in grant money yearly.

Kevin Silviera, Watsonville's wastewater division manager, and Haddad have been collaborating on the project since 2009.

Haddad said WaterLab also could work to reduce the cost of desalination.

"The technologies used in water reuse and (desalination) are very similar," Haddad said. "At this time they're very energy intensive so if we can take a crack at that, that would really be a service."

In other action, the council ratified all two-year, union contracts with employees established in the budget passed earlier this month.

The agreement continues past concessions made by employee unions, saving the city more than $1 million. Those concessions include continuing furloughs that began four years ago, reducing hours and pay by 10 percent. Police will forgo raises and take eight days of furlough each year.

The council also rejected a claim by former Councilman Emilio Martinez and his wife, Kathleen Morgan-Martinez, alleging harassment, threats and "systematic silencing" during Martinez's time on the council.

Follow Sentinel reporter Ketti Wilhelm on Twitter at Twitter.com/KettiWilhelm