Residents north of Clovis could face eminent domain by city for water project

Residents north of Clovis are concerned about the city’s plans to pay them for letting highly treated sewage from its water recycling plant flow through a channel bordering their properties.

The Clovis City Council on Monday night will consider approving a “resolution of necessity” to move toward eminent domain proceedings so the city can use the channel and send water to the San Joaquin River.

Since the plant opened seven years ago, the city has sent the treated water into Fancher Creek to recharge underground supplies without any complaints from residents or growers, said Luke Serpa, the city’s public utilities director.

The water is treated to a state-approved level and is used in city parks and landscaping, at Clovis Community Medical Center and Caltrans landscaping along Highway 168.

The state requires the city to have a second option to divert water when Fancher Creek isn’t available. Fancher Creek will undergo maintenance, possibly later this year, which is why the city wants to move the water to the San Joaquin River through Appaloosa Acres and neighboring subdivisions.

So far, about two-thirds of 48 residents have supported the plan. Each property owner gets $1,500 in the deal.

“We are not changing the use of anyone’s land,” said Serpa. “We are not preventing anyone from using land they are already using.”

The payment, he said, is “a convenience fee” because residents have to wade through paperwork. The payment also is required because the type of water going into the channel is different than floodwater or runoff from the Big Dry Creek detention basin on the east side of the neighborhood, which is just north of Shepherd Avenue and west of Highway 168.

The city’s environmental documents show that Clovis planned the second diversion channel when the sewer treatment and water re-use facility was proposed a decade ago.

The neighborhood has had homeowners who have little or no water because many of the homes were built over hard rock. Much of the land is a clay soil, and water doesn’t easily seep into the ground where it can enter a well.

For several years, the county and residents were working together to form a service area that would pipe drinking water to the community, but as the cost grew, opposition did, too. The plan eventually died.

In 2014, the city started talking to residents along the diversion channel after the piping project ended.

But while a majority of the affected residents are willing to let the plan move forward, there is a core group of about a dozen property owners fighting it.

The 1 percent

When city officials and their lawyers approached Patrick O’Leary, they told him the city’s recycled water would be 99 percent clean.

But he’s concerned about the 1 percent – the potential for pharmaceuticals or even radiation that he says can’t be removed in treatment.

He said the state has no fixed contamination levels to identify the danger presented by radiation or drugs.

“There are some things they don’t know how to test for,” he said. “They are going to take that chance and put it in my domestic water well?”

O’Leary, who lives in Appaloosa Acres, said his well is 30 feet from the diversion channel, and that testing shows only wells 100 feet or farther were clean. He wasn’t told of a test comparable to his situation.

“I don’t buy what they are selling and I haven’t seen any science to refute that,” he said.

His neighbor, Cassie Santellan, said the city is interfering with property rights because the water will go into their wells.

“There are things they can’t get out – radiation and medications,” she said. “If they can’t, let’s not allow it to seep into the ground  what right do they have to pollute my groundwater?”

But Jay Shaw, who also lives in Appaloosa Acres and who searches for groundwater for a living, said any water flowing through the area will help recharge the groundwater. Appaloosa Acres has a serious problem with wells going dry or residents paying tens of thousands of dollars to drill new wells or deepen existing ones.

For those reasons, some residents previously asked city, flood control and irrigation district officials to run water through the channel to help recharge.

Shaw said having water in the channel will allow some recharge to occur with soil that is more permeable.

“Any kind of groundwater recharge we have will be beneficial to this area,” he said.

Shaw said he doesn’t often sell his services in the neighborhood because there is such a lack of success in finding water.

“I’ve probably done it for 30 or 40 people up here,” he said. “I’ve found water for probably six.”

Shaw’s home is not next to the channel, so he didn’t get an opportunity to weigh in on Clovis’ plan.

He said he understands the way Clovis operates its water recycling plant, and he hasn’t heard of problems where the water is diverted now.

“We don’t see any three-eyed frogs out there,” he said.

Cleaner water

The recycled water coming from the treatment plant is cleaner than what would typically run down the channel, a state official says.

The processes used by the city clean the water of such things as giardia and coliform, said Lonnie Wass, supervising engineer for the state Regional Water Quality Control Board in Fresno.

The same cannot be said of untreated runoff coming down the channel from floodwater or by other means, he said.

Wass said there’s a better chance water from storm runoff and nearby creeks will pollute the treated recycled water instead of the other way around.

The recycled water is not permitted for drinking, but neither is runoff coming from other sources along the diversion channel, Serpa said.

The city plans to move about 3 cubic feet of water per second – a fraction of the channel’s capacity of 700 cubic feet per second.

“It’s not a major issue as far as water flow in that channel,” he said.

As Clovis grows and the treatment plant expands, the highest flow the city will divert is between 10 and 12 cubic feet per second, Serpa said.

The state has conducted “anti-degradation” tests on the water to examine whether it pollutes wells, and all tests have come back negative, he said.

Eventually, Serpa said, Clovis wants to run recycled water into its recharge basins, especially in winter when there is less demand for landscaping water. That plan requires a state permit, too. In the meantime, the city is evaluating the cost for such a project, he said.

Gary Serrato, general manager of the Fresno Irrigation District, said he’s received no complaints about the recycled water that moves down Fancher Creek.

Compared with the size of the creek, Serrato said, the 2.8 million gallons per day of recycled water looks like a trickle.

“It doesn’t make it all the way down Fancher Creek,” he said. “A lot of it gets recharged even before the water gets to Jensen Avenue.”

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin

If you go

What: Clovis City Council meeting

When: 6 p.m. Monday

Where: 1033 Fifth St.

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