The city of Fresno only expected to get about 39,000 acre-feet of water from Millerton Lake this year – much less than it would get in a normal year.
But then again, there’s been nothing normal about the past few years of drought in the San Joaquin Valley and the central Sierra. Over the past two years, the city’s allocation of water from behind Friant Dam has been zero from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
On Thursday, the Fresno City Council voted to take advantage of hundreds of millions of gallons of extra Millerton Lake water, adopting a resolution to pay the Bureau of Reclamation for about 2,650 acre-feet that won’t be needed this year for the San Joaquin River restoration program. The tab for the extra water is about $184,000.
An acre-foot of water is about 326,000 gallons, or enough to submerge a football field under a foot of water. According to the Water Education Foundation, an average household in California uses one-half to 1 acre-foot annually for indoor and outdoor water needs.
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After two years of zero allocation, the (Bureau of Reclamation) has been working on ways to get water to the city and other contractors.
Thomas Esqueda, Fresno director of public utilities
“After two years of zero allocation, the bureau has been working on ways to get water to the city and other contractors,” said Thomas Esqueda, Fresno’s public utilities director. Between the unreleased flows for the river restoration and flood releases earlier this year, Fresno is getting an extra 19,000 acre-feet, over and above the city’s regular allocation, Esqueda said.
Fresno water users typically consume 120,000 to 130,000 acre-feet a year. Between Millerton Lake and Pine Flat Lake on the Kings River, the city typically has rights to about 180,000 acre-feet of river water – when the water is available. But Fresno’s water treatment plants now are only able to handle about 33,000 acre-feet of water, forcing the city to rely on pumping groundwater to meet the needs of residents and businesses.
“Now our question becomes what do we want to do with this water we have this year?” Esqueda said. He listed options including running it through the treatment plant, groundwater recharge, leaving it in Millerton (the city retains rights to it) in case next year is a bad water year, transferring or selling it.
Fresno’s entitlement of water from Pine Flat Lake in a normal year is about 120,000 acre-feet. This year, the city expects to receive 84,000 acre-feet, Esqueda said.
“If the snowpack is below normal, the reservoirs are not going to fill up all the way,” he added. “So the drought, in our minds, is not over until we get the normal snowpack and those reservoirs fill up and they’re making normal deliveries. … This is still a below-normal year.”
City Council members also voted Thursday to raise fees paid by airlines to do business at Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
Kevin Meikle, the city’s director of aviation, proposed annual increases of 4 percent in each of the next five years for aircraft landing fees and the rental fees paid by airlines for their space in the airport’s terminal building. Even with the increases, Meikle said Fresno’s costs are not only well below industry averages, but also below the city’s break-even rate – an effort, he said, to keep costs low for airlines.
Commercial aircraft operators with lease agreements at the airport currently pay landing fees of $2.34 for every 1,000 pounds of landed weight. That would go up to $2.44 in July, $2.54 in mid-2017, $2.64 in mid-2018, $2.75 in mid-2019, and $2.86 in mid-2020. Meikle said the landing fees have not been increased at the airport since 2009. The amount that it would take to fully recover the airport’s cost of doing business is $3.11 per pound, Meikle added.
The weight-based landing fees apply to cargo carriers at the airport as well as passenger airlines, Meikle said.
The rates charged for renting space in the airport terminal will increase from the current rate of $43 per square foot at 4 percent per year, to $52.32 in 2020. “At the end of the five-year projection period … the terminal rental rate would be low by industry standards, and below the cost-recovery rate.”
Higher fees aren’t likely to have an effect on the fares that airlines charge to fly to and from Fresno. “Airfares are based on market demand and competition; they’re not driven by rates and charges at all,” Meikle told the council. “Airlines used to go into a market because they wanted market share, but they don’t do that anymore. Now it’s profit-driven, which is what most free-market businesses do.”
Meikle said airlines serving Fresno have expressed approval of the fee increases. “They like the predictability of a multiyear pricing plan,” he said.
While agreeing to increase the landing fees and terminal rental rates, the council’s vote also reduces the per-passenger Federal Inspection Station fee charged to international carriers Volaris and Aeromexico to cover the costs of Customs and Border Protection operations at the airport. The charge of $14 per passenger will drop to $12 starting July 1.