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New Surface Water Plant Could 'Flip' How Fresno Gets Its Water

Leaders of the City of Fresno have officially broken ground on one of the biggest public utilities projects in city history.

Although trucks are already working on the 58-acre site in southeast Fresno, city leaders celebrated the start of the nearly $200 million project Wednesday by signing a section of the 6-foot diameter pipe that will carry water from the Kings River to the plant.

Once the surface water treatment plant is fully operational it is expected to deliver as much as 80-million gallons of drinking water a day to the city.

Public Utilities Director Tommy Esqueda said the plant will represent a massive shift in how Fresno gets its water.

“Right now we are about 85% of our usage is ground water and 15% is surface water. We are going to flip that entirely and go to 15% ground water and 85% surface water,” Esqueda said.

 Over reliance of groundwater by the city has resulted in a nearly 100-foot decrease in the groundwater table over several decades.

By relying more heavily on surface water, Mayor Ashley Swearengin said Fresno can begin restoring that groundwater through a program they call Recharge Fresno.

“Fresno is well on its way to being one of the most drought proof cities in the western United States. What we are going to be able to do, once we convert to surface water for our daily usage, we are going to recharge our aquifer,” Swearengin said, “So we are essentially making a water savings account right under our feet.”

The project is decades in the making. Fresno has been paying for water from the Kings River for years but had no ability to access it.

The plant is being paid for by an increase in rates among water users in the city.

In addition to a 13-mile pipe to the river, a second 13-mile pipe will be constructed to connect the treatment plant to the rest of the water system.

Construction is expected to take about two years.

Jeffrey Hess is a reporter and Morning Edition news host for Valley Public Radio. Jeffrey was born and raised in a small town in rural southeast Ohio. After graduating from Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio with a communications degree, Jeffrey embarked on a radio career. After brief stops at stations in Ohio and Texas, and not so brief stops in Florida and Mississippi, Jeffrey and his new wife Shivon are happy to be part Valley Public Radio.