About 20 northeast Fresno residents attended Thursday afternoon’s City Council meeting to support a water presentation by Fresno Citizens for Clean Water and express their own water grievances.
They swarmed City Hall, armed with signs and water bottles filled with discolored liquid. While they were adamant for something to be done, during unscheduled public communication those who told their water stories also profusely thanked council members for their efforts and patient listening.
Barbara Frederick came to make the council more aware of her water problems, which she thinks have been treated like a rumor. A Fresno resident for more than 50 years, she’s had water problems since 2004.
For her, the pipe blame game is a symptom of the city’s denial of the problem.
“It’s not our pipes,” Frederick said. “It happened in 2004 when they went from groundwater to surface water.”
She said when bad water first started showing up in her home, it was hard to rally people. Now that the problem has spread, more people are willing to band together.
We’re not coming to you saying that this is your fault. We’re saying that we’d like you guys to be the ones that solve the problem.
Holly Carter, spokeswoman for Fresno Citizens for Clean Water
Holly Carter, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in June, spoke on behalf of Fresno Citizens for Clean Water. She listed the group’s requests: a community workshop, updated maps of affected areas and a multiagency task force with civilians, representatives from the city, state and Environmental Protection Agency as well as industry experts.
“What happened in Flint, Michigan, is exactly what’s happening to our pipes,” Carter said. To her, the water itself is not the problem, but the water’s treatment. Because the water didn’t have corrosion inhibitors, the pipes corroded and released lead.
“To go around on Facebook saying this is our Flint, Michigan, is like yelling ‘Fire!’ in a theater,” District 2 Councilman Steve Brandau said, indicating that Carter was inflaming the controversy unnecessarily.
City Manager Bruce Rudd said the council has already scheduled a workshop, has begun working with the state and the EPA, and has sent educational postcards to residents in the affected ZIP codes.
Brandau called up two experts from the Fresno County Department of Public Health, director David Pomaville and nurse Mary Morrison.
Morrison said collected data have not indicated any spikes in lead levels. Only once, in the 1990s, did a lead poisoning case occur. She added that the board tests at least 20,000 individuals a year for lead poisoning.
The northeast Fresno residents silently thrust their signs in the air: “12 Years of Children Drinking Lead. NO MORE. Stop Delaying,” “Please … Be The Council That Solves The Problem” and “Less Denial More Action.”
“My question is to everybody holding signs,” Brandau said. “You guys disagree with this nurse and the county health official? I mean, you’re asking for the county to get involved and you guys disagree with the expert?”
There was a resounding, “Yes.”
The tension in the room lightened when Carter’s concluding remarks drew applause.
“We’re not coming to you saying that this is your fault,” she said. “We’re saying that we’d like you guys to be the ones that solve the problem.”