Experts weigh in on the snowpack, and how a new water treatment facility benefits the valley

Local News

The newest water treatment facility in southeast Fresno is treating and delivering Kings River water across the city.

And a large snowpack is ready and waiting to supply the Central Valley with water. 

“Statewide we’re at about 162% of average and so that means we have a great supply of surface water for the City of Fresno,” says Michael Carbajal, Director of Public Utilities for the City of Fresno.

Storm after storm this winter and spring brought snow to the Sierra this season, and here in the Valley, Carbajal knows that every bit is important.

“We have access to water, surface water out of the Sierra Nevada mountains, as well as groundwater,” he explains.

Groundwater, the water that has seeped down into the soil, is what we’ve historically used. Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau says you can think of the groundwater table like a bank.

“In years like this year, where it’s very wet, you’re going to put in deposits. As much water you’re going to sink into the ground as possible. In dry years, you’re going to take those deposits out. You’re going to do some withdrawals,” Jacobsen says.

But, there’s a need to use the available surface water from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs so the groundwater can replenish itself. That’s where the new Southeast Fresno Surface Water Treatment Facility comes in. It’s been online for almost a year, and Carbajal says everything is going as planned.

“We’re in the transition from groundwater being our primary source of drinking water to surface water,” he explains.

Carbajal says that before 2004, we used 100% groundwater to meet drinking water demand. That number went up to 35% last year with the help of the Southeast Fresno Surface Water Facility.

“We’re hoping to get up over 50% meaning, 50% of our drinking water demand through surface water,” he says. 

This will give our groundwater a chance to recharge and prepare us for drought years. Ideally, we’d put a gallon of water back into the ground for every gallon we take out.

“By being able to utilize that snowpack, combining that with recharge, and utilizing the surface water plant as well as our groundwater wells is going to be a sustainable approach for Fresno,” Carbajal says.

This project came at a cost to you. Customer rates did rise over a five year plan from 82 cents per one thousand gallons, to $2.33. This investment ensures safe, clean, and reliable water for years to come.

A six foot wide pipe carries the water the 13 mile stretch from Trimmer Springs to the water treatment facility. It’s a contract with the Fresno Irrigation District that allows access to the Kings River.

“One of the unique things about Fresno Irrigation District is we have really good Kings River water rights,” says Adam Claes, Assistant General Manager of Operations, Fresno Irrigation District.

He adds, “By taking more surface water and turning off additional wells within the urban area, that groundwater level will actually begin to recover and rise. And that benefits not just the urban area, but the surrounding aglands, or rural residential as well.”

Claes says the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, states that by 2040, groundwater levels can no longer decline over time. They must develop a plan to show the state how they will make this happen.

“A perfect example of that would be the city’s new SE Fresno Surface Water Treatment Plant where they can utilize additional surface water that could otherwise not be used,” he says.

This balance that the new water treatment facility allows us to have is essential. Jacobsen says, “Every time we’re able to shut off a pump, whether it’s in the agricultural community, or in the urban environment, it benefits our groundwater table.“

Since close to a third of our state’s water comes from the snowpack, the city will continue to look at opportunities to store more water.

“We know we can’t rely upon that annual snowpack. And that’s why water conservation is very important even in years like this,” Carbajal says.

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