The League of Women Voters of Fresno supports the plan for infrastructure improvements to the city of Fresno’s water system. We urge Fresno water users to support these essential improvements and the rate plan to provide the revenue needed for construction.
Except for completing the northeast surface water treatment plant in 2004, Fresno has put off, for at least 25 years, major upgrades to its water infrastructure. These upgrades will allow us to better use Fresno’s rights to surface water from the San Joaquin and Kings rivers. The project, including infrastructure to capture, treat and deliver high quality surface water to Fresno water users, is long overdue.
Further delays will only increase costs and may subject the city and its residents to state intervention to enforce water quality and groundwater management laws and regulations. It’s time for the city and its residents to take action to finance and construct needed water system upgrades instead of once again “kicking the can down the road.”
The California Water Resources Control Board provided a letter detailing why this project is needed if the city is to comply with state water quality and groundwater management laws and regulations. Of particular concern are impending water quality regulations for 1,2, 3-trichloropropane or TCP, a powerful cancer-linked toxin detected in 80 wells in Fresno, and the need to address groundwater overdraft to meet the requirements of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014.
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Use of San Joaquin and Kings River surface water allocations will decrease groundwater pumping and allow for recharge of Fresno’s overdrafted groundwater.
The city has decreased the cost of the southeast surface water treatment plant by reducing its initial capacity while designing the plant to accommodate additional capacity at a later time, if needed.
Groundwater recharge efforts will continue with the construction of additional groundwater recharge basins.
The plan contains $82.5 million for pipeline and well rehabilitation and replacement. The city has significant water infrastructure repair and replacement problems in downtown Fresno and other older areas of the City. It is important to address issues with our aging infrastructure to maintain system reliability and prevent costly failures.
It is a challenge for the city to balance the cost of implementing the project while also working to keep water rates at a level that is acceptable to water users. In the real world of finances in which the city must operate, it is necessary to adopt rates that provide the reliable revenue stream necessary to secure bond funding and low-cost loans needed to carry out the project.
The current average monthly water bill for residential users with a 1-inch service is $24.49, a relatively low fee reflecting our community’s many years of reluctance to invest in our water infrastructure. Current water rates are substantially lower than water service rates for most cities throughout the San Joaquin Valley and California. The proposed new rate plan will include funds for needed infrastructure improvements. The average monthly water bill would rise over five years to $52.18, still a bargain compared with other cities.
The city plans to provide approximately $1.1 million over five years for continuing water conservation programs. These programs are an important tool for residents to better control their water bills by reducing their water use. It is our understanding that these programs are paid for from sources other than ratepayer funds. We urge the city to pursue additional conservation funding through grants, or other sources, and encourage residents to use rebates that may become available through California’s water bond funding.
Voter-approved California Proposition 218 prohibits localities from using revenue from rates to discount utility services such as lifeline rates for those with low incomes. We suggest that the city develop a plan to address the needs of its lowest-income residents through alternate sources of funding, such as donations, grants or foundation funds.
The city of Fresno’s water infrastructure investment plan is sound and long overdue. The League of Women Voters of Fresno urges water users to support the plan by not returning the protest ballot card mailed to you by the city.