Despite drought, Clovis expects to have enough water -- this year

The Fresno BeeJanuary 21, 2014 

Clovis city officials are not expecting a water shortage this year, but are asking residents to save every drop possible for next year.

Despite critically dry conditions, City Council members were told Tuesday night that more draconian steps are not necessary -- yet.

Still, that could depend on how much worse the critically dry water year gets and whether needed water comes through as expected from the Fresno Irrigation District. Other Valley cities also are watching and waiting to see what happens with rainfall and water demand.

Even under the worst possible conditions, Clovis expects to get a third of the 27,000 acre-feet needed to meet city demands from its Fresno Irrigation District allocation, said Luke Serpa, the city's public utilities director. The city can draw the remaining two-thirds from its wells.

To make up any shortage, the city can get water from its banking facilities at a lower-than-market cost. The city invested millions in its water banking program and can convey up to 7,800 acre-feet of water from its banking facility near Kerman.

The $175 per acre-foot cost from the water bank is about eight times higher than the cost of running water through the city plant, but well below the market price -- expected to be $400 to $500 an acre-foot this year, Serpa said.

He also doesn't expect the city to use its entire water-bank allotment, which should help the city avoid more stringent Stage 3 water conservation rules.

"I don't see a scenario that kicks us to Stage 3 this year," Serpa told the council.

The city has $1.5 million in reserve to pay for the more expensive water coming from the water bank. Each household uses about one-acre-foot per year, equal to about 326,000 gallons.

"That should be our insurance," City Council Member Harry Armstrong said prior to the meeting. "The question is what are we going to do next year."

If shortages should occur next year, city officials may require Stage 3 water restrictions. The city is now in Stage 2, which means all customers can water landscaping three days a week and the city can lower thresholds for water consumption in its rate tiers.

Stage 3 reduces landscape irrigation to two days per week and results in higher rates for those who overuse water. The city also will employ water waste patrols, prohibit draining and refilling of pools and water connections for new homes.

In Fresno, installation of water meters is already meeting conservation requirements that exceed 20%, said Martin Querin, Fresno's water division manager.

"We are tracking and watching demand," he said. "Our hope at this time is that public attention and the media's heightened messaging around water will cause people to continue their water conservation efforts."

For now, putting out the conservation message is the main focus for Fresno, he said.

If demand increases or a continued lack of rain, he said, Fresno may go into a different stage in water conservation that includes adding staff to monitor landscape watering and a reduction of summer watering days from three to two.

He said the city will reevaluate its drought plan in March.

Visalia officials also plan to preach conservation this year, but the city does not operate its water utility.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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