Photo by Ron Sundquist – Residents objecting to having easements on their property for grey water to flow down the Dry Creek Diversion Channel spoke at a meeting in early March. At the podium is resident Patty McGhee.
By Valerie Shelton, Editor
Water is a precious commodity in Clovis. The impact of the drought years is continuing to be detrimental despite recent El Nino rains and Clovis, ever the proactive city, is trying to find creative ways to store more water and hook up more purple pipelines so grey water can be reused.
One of the last things the city staff want to do is channel some of this precious grey water out of the city, but that is exactly what city council members had to vote to do at a meeting last month when they approved a resolution of necessity related to the acquisition of easements along the Dry Creek Diversion Channel—easements needed so the city can flow some of its grey water somewhere when the Fancher Creek diversion facility is closed for maintenance.
While council members expressed some hesitance to approve the resolution because of their desire to store or use the water in some other way, residents along the Dry Creek Diversion Channel pleaded with council to negate the resolution for the opposite reason—because they are concerned that grey water will seep into and contaminate their ground and well water, rendering their supply undrinkable and unhealthy.
Resident Cassie Santella, whose mother is one of the property owners who did not want to sign an agreement granting the city an easement, said she did extensive research online and found out about contaminates in grey water that cannot be removed by the waste water treatment process. These contaminates, which include trace amounts of prescription and non-prescription drugs that are flushed down the toilet, can be harmful to those exposed to the grey water.
“UV treated water is best for helping kill a decent variety of viruses, bacteria, mold and collagens, but what about the drugs in the water?” Santella said. “What about the pharmaceuticals? What about the radioactive waste from chemotherapy patients? It cannot filter those things out of the water. Not even reverse osmosis can filter those things out of the water. I have been doing a lot of Internet research and there isn’t a single biologist that thinks it is safe to let this stuff sit around and seep into the groundwater.”
Patty McGhee, a property owner along the Dry Creek Diversion Channel, said she too is concerned about pharmaceuticals that may be in the water. McGhee also said she is concerned about the impact the easement would have on her property. While the Fresno Irrigation District (FID) already has an easement, used for flood control, from each property along the channel, McGhee said this increases the easement and brings the water within 25 feet of her house.
“That is a big difference and the phase one says they can do 3.1 million gallons per day down that canal, and the phase two they are trying to get is 6.2 million gallons per day,” McGhee said.
Since the soil on her property is hardpan, McGhee said the water will end up flooding and sitting on her property and that would affect more than just the neighbors right along the canal.
“We get a prevailing wind out there every afternoon almost 95 percent of the days so during the summer it will not only affect the property owners like myself who have property against the ditch canal, but it will affect all the property owners downwind from the prevailing wind,” McGhee said.
Clovis Public Utilities Director Luke Serpa assured residents and the council that the water has been tested and is safe. He said the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act] process also determined this is the safest route for the city to divert toe water to when Fancher Creek is not operational. CEQA mandates that there be a second diversion channel, Serpa said.
“The water was extensively studied during the design and permitting and environmental process and the best available science prove that this is not going to have a negative impact on any drinking water,” Serpa said. “The treatment plant treats at a much higher level than most treatment plants and much more so than a septic tank which barely treats and lets the water infiltrate. Some infiltration will happen but this is very clean water.
“The discharge just underwent a very extensive CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process prior to the plant ever being permitted. As part of that process we had to study all options and alternatives for discharging the water and CEQA obligates us to use the option or options that have the least impact on the environment. Based on that it determined that Fancher Creek was the best option for the primary point of discharge and the Dry Creek Diversion Channel would be the best option for a secondary point of discharge. It is secondary because we cannot shut down our sewage flow [to do repairs at Fancher Creek]. We would have to be able to divert that water someplace. It is important to note that this is a secondary discharge, the primary discharge will remain Fancher Creek, we have been discharging to Fancher Creek over seven years now and have not had any problems. This one would only be used intermittedly if we can’t discharge to Fancher Creek for some reason, primarily for maintenance activities within Fancher Creek.”
Serpa also explained that the Dry Creek Diversion Channel won’t be used often and the amount of water the city directs down the channel will be minimal compared to the amount FID is allowed to send down the easement already in place. He also said this easement doesn’t increase the impact already in place from the FID easement.
“The flow we are proposing is relatively small, right now it would be 3 cubic feet per second, decades from now after expanding our plant it would be up to 13 cubic feet per second,” Serpa said. “The permitted flow in this area is 713 cubic feet per second, so this water is very small compared to the amount of water that is already permitted to flow down this channel, which is 700 cubic feet per second for FID flood control, and what that means is that this water isn’t going to impact any ground that isn’t already encumbered under that flood control easement…I would not expect to use the channel more than once a year, if that even. It would just be used when Fancher Creek needs maintenance.”
Prior to approving the resolution of necessity by a unanimous 4-0 vote, with council member Harry Armstrong absent, council members acknowledged the residents’ concerns and did what they could to assure them that the water that would occasionally flow on their properties is safe.
Mayor Nathan Magsig said he was once skeptical about the grey water as well but he says he is now confident that it is safe and he would not allow his children to play in a park irrigated with this grey water if he thought it was in any way unsafe.
“The City of Clovis would keep all this water in the city if we had the ability to do so,“ Magsig said. “I live close to Sierra and Temperance and we have a park there that is irrigated with that water. Our dog park uses that water and our hospital uses that water for landscaping. My kids play on those properties and ultimately I can tell you I would not do anything that would cause harm to my own children. I have been on this council for 15 years. I’ve studied this issue and I’ve toured a number of tertiary water treatment facilities all across the nation, most of which are on the west coast, and it took me about eight years to be convinced that what we were doing here in Clovis was going to be absolutely good for the community. It wasn’t that it wasn’t good when I started, it was that I lacked the knowledge about the water and the level of treatment that was being done.”
Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen said he wishes they had a way to divert the grey water to a purple pipeline or ponding basin because he feels so strongly that it is good water that is needed in the community.
“I’m struck by the contrast in perception about this water,” Whalen said. “From my perspective, I don’t want the water to go in this diversion because it is good water and we want to use it. We don’t want to waste it. We want to put it in a ponding basin so that it can percolate into our city’s aquifer and be utilized. We are using it for irrigation purposes and we want to use more and more of it and frankly, I’m thinking we are going to expand the uses of this water and it may be that no water ever ends up going down that diversion because if I can prevent it, I’m going to prevent it not because the water is bad, but because the water is good and we want to keep it in the City of Clovis and use it for our purposes.”