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Fresno wants to pay two experts to tackle its rusty-water problem

How will Fresno fix its rusty water in northeast neighborhoods?

As Fresno sorts out problems with rusty water in the northeast part of the city, Public Utilities Director Thomas Esqueda discusses plans to reduce the potential for those problems to repeat themselves in Fresno, where a new $159 million surface w
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As Fresno sorts out problems with rusty water in the northeast part of the city, Public Utilities Director Thomas Esqueda discusses plans to reduce the potential for those problems to repeat themselves in Fresno, where a new $159 million surface w

The city of Fresno wants to hire two national experts on corrosion in municipal water systems to reduce the odds that discolored-water problems now plaguing northeast Fresno will repeat themselves when a new water treatment plant opens in 2018.

At their meeting Thursday, Fresno City Council members will be asked to award contracts to Vernon Snoeyink, a professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Marc Edwards, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech, to conduct experiments with galvanized pipes and local surface water supplies.

Their research, if approved by the council, will guide water-treatment efforts for the new $159 million surface water treatment plant under construction near Armstrong and Olive avenues in southeast Fresno, as well as for the 12-year-old Northeast Surface Water Treatment Plant near Chestnut and Behymer avenues.

Public Utilities Director Thomas Esqueda is proposing a $150,000 contract for Edwards’ research team at Virginia Tech, and a $200,000 contract with Snoeyink, who is now affiliated with Water Quality & Treatment Solutions Inc. in Los Angeles. The proposal is part of the council’s consent agenda – a list of action items deemed noncontroversial and anticipated to be collectively approved by council members without substantial discussion.

“Our focus is still, primarily, in northeast,” Esqueda said. “But let’s use this as a building block for how we want to do the corrosion-control treatment study down in southeast.”

Our focus is still primarily in northeast. But let’s use this as a building block for how we want to do the corrosion-control treatment study down in southeast.

Thomas Esqueda, Fresno public utilities director

The proposal calls for Snoeyink and Edwards to “research and identify alternative water chemistry options that may be suitable to implement at the city’s surface water treatment facilities to minimize galvanized pipe corrosion in the city’s service area.” Snoeyink and Edwards were enlisted by the city earlier this year to help Fresno officials understand how water from the city’s Northeast Surface Water Treatment Plant likely contributed to discoloration and, in some cases, lead in the water coming from residents’ faucets.

The northeast plant was built at a cost of $32 million to treat water from Pine Flat Lake and Millerton Lake and produce up to 30 million gallons of water daily. It opened in 2004, and scattered complaints about water quality arose soon thereafter.

But it wasn’t until January 2016 that northeast Fresno’s water problems became widely known and the city launched an investigation into what was causing the discolored water. Over the past 8 1/2 months, the city has received between 1,500 and 2,000 reports from residents about red, brown or yellow-tinged water in homes plumbed with galvanized pipe in the area served by the northeast treatment plant.

Independent of each other, Snoeyink and Edwards examined water sampling data collected by the city in its northeast water investigation. Each of them concluded that marked differences in pH, alkalinity and other characteristics between pumped groundwater and surface water from the treatment plant – as well as daily and seasonal fluctuations in water sources serving individual homes – disrupted rust and mineral scales deposited over years on the inside of galvanized pipes in some homes, causing discoloration to appear when residents opened their taps.

Each professor was paid $30,000 for his initial consultation and evaluation of water problems associated with the northeast plant, Esqueda said. “I’m asking the council to let me go ahead and hire them for some real work now,” Esqueda said. “It’s like, ‘OK, you came; you touched, you saw and smelled and felt.’ Now I’d like them to help me do some of the laboratory work in a controlled environment.”

Fresno leaders broke ground on the southeast treatment plant earlier this year. When it opens in late 2018, it will use water from Pine Flat and Millerton lakes via the Enterprise Canal for an initial production capacity of 54 million gallons of water daily. Eventually, it can expand to 80 million gallons a day. That water would be piped to homes across a large swath of southeast Fresno, an area of the city where there is likely to be even more – and older – galvanized pipe running through homes than in northeast Fresno.

If you go

What: Fresno City Council meeting

When: 9 a.m. Thursday

Where: Fresno City Hall, City Council chamber, 2600 Fresno St., downtown Fresno

Details: The meeting agenda is online at http://bit.ly/agenda922Fresno

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