FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --Construction is underway on a massive new water treatment plant in Southeast Fresno. It's part of a more than $400 million project to boost Fresno's water supply.
For most of the past 130 years the city of Fresno has relied on wells to provide drinking water, even though it had rights to water from both the San Joaquin and Kings Rivers. The new plant will enable the city to use thousands of acre-feet of river water, and take the stress off the underground water supply which is being rapidly depleted.
The biggest public works project in Fresno's history is already underway. The ground is being prepared for a more than $200 million surface water treatment plant. City officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for a project they described as a monumental achievement. "Today marks the day in which the voices who were willing to look forward are louder, or were louder than those who insisted on looking back," said Bruce Rudd.
The plant is part of a more than $400 million project to revamp the city's water system, utilizing river water to ease dependence on the underground water supply-- which has plunged more than one hundred feet in recent years. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin pushed the project but praised the City Council for supporting the water rate increases needed to pay for it, despite vocal legal challenges. "Recognizing our unsustainable situation, the Fresno City Council took courageous action and did what no elected official in the United States wants to do-- they raised the water rates on the people of Fresno."
Paying for the project doubles the average water bill from about $24 to $48 a month over five years.
The water the city will be taking from the Kings River would have gone to farms in the Fresno Irrigation District. But district Manager Gary Serrato said the fact the city will be substituting surface water for groundwater will benefit farmers. "If we reduce pumping here that means our groundwater stays sustainable, and, when our farmers need to pump during dry years, when they turn on the pump there will be actual water for them to pump."
The success of this plant relies on a steady supply of water coming from the Sierra into the Kings River, and as the drought appears to be continuing that supply remains uncertain.
The plant is expected to be completed in about two years.