Fresno Water Chief placed on leave amid investigation

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Instead of reporting the contaminated water to the state, the city quietly issued bottled water to residents who complained. (KFSN)

A Fresno city official has been placed on leave over his role in the water problems plaguing northeast Fresno.

The director of the city's water division is being investigated over the city's failure to report water quality problems to the state.

Problems with rust colored water coming out of faucets in homes in northeast Fresno started in 2004, following the opening of the city's surface water treatment plant.

Residents on Sharon Avenue were the first to complain of rusty water, and their complaints were not forwarded to the state.

"That's one of those items that should have been reported on those monthly reports and it didn't get on those monthly reports," Thomas Esqueda with the city said.

Instead of reporting it to the state, the city quietly issued bottled water to residents who complained. Ronda Rifidi has been getting bottled water for 9 years.

Esqueda has repeatedly said he could find no records concerning bottled water and said no current city employees knew anything.

But Rifidi recently showed Action News letters she received from water Division Chief Kenneth Heard in 2011 concerning bottled water deliveries.

"He's not the only person that should be held accountable," Rifidi said. "The city should have documentation whatever they haven't shredded yet I don't know. But, and we've sent letters, city councilmen knew when all of this started and other people knew I don't think Ken Heard is the only person."

In fact, she and neighbor Shann Conner also showed us e-mails and letters to other former city officials about the rusty water problems over the years.

Esqueda says those issues are also being investigated. But he said the reason the water chief has been placed on administrative leave is because of questions over proper reporting to the state.

"There are elements that you are supposed to do in our reporting to the state," he said. "The law is very clear and we didn't do them and there is an individual we want to research and investigate and find out how did that happen."

The city is also investigating the cause of the colored water issue.

They recently replaced a water pipe leading to Rifid's home, and she says things are a little better, but the same problems are now being seen in hundreds of homes in northeast Fresno.
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