Underscoring City, County's first joint talks: the future of water

Public safety and marijuana are on the agenda, but water cooperation looms large over the meeting between City and County leaders.


The City of Fresno and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors have scheduled a joint public meeting for May 30.


Time: 1:30 p.m.

Site: City Hall.

Agenda: Discussions on public safety, marijuana legislation, animal control.

Meeting chairman: Mayor Lee Brand.

Other participants: City Manager Bruce Rudd and County Administrator Jean Rousseau.

The unacknowledged elephant in the room: Local water wars.

That last one, of course, is my opinion.

Said Mayor Lee Brand in a news release from City Hall: “We have a significant number of issues that affect both the City and the County, and I’m pleased that we are able to work with the County to develop a shared vision and shared solutions. This is just the start of a new era of collaboration and communication between the City and the County, and the real winners are the citizens we serve.”

Said Supes Chairman Brian Pacheco in the same news release: “We have already had two Ad Hoc Subcommittee meetings with the Mayor and members of the Council and have achieved significant progress on several fronts. There is much more we can do and this joint meeting of the Board and the Council is a giant step in that direction.”

City officials describe the May 30 confab as “the first of many special joint meetings” and “the first such gathering in recent history.”

I recall city and county elected officials meeting together amid much hoopla during the Alan Autry era. The meeting was at the Cornerstone Church conference center. Seems to me nothing much came of the event. Perhaps this time will be different.

Increased city-county cooperation on public safety is our region’s eternal promise.

An animal control sales tax, similar to the Measure C transportation sales tax, is a proposal as resilient as the dream of a public safety sales tax.

But perhaps we’ll have all the public funding we need if we can put a regulated marijuana retail store on every neighborhood street corner.

I originally thought water would be on this first city-county meeting agenda. City officials tell me water will be discussed at a later date.

Water is where we’ll see if City Hall and the Hall of Records (now that Debbie Poochigian and Henry R. Perea, with their persistently independent cast of mind, are gone) truly love each other.

I’m not talking about the issuing joint communiqués in praise of more storage in the Sierra Nevada foothills. In one form or another, we’ve already had our fill those wistful pleas from local officials.

I’m talking about the regulation of consumption, especially in the Fresno metropolitan area.

The state, of course, will be the key player in this issue. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act confirms Sacramento’s role as the No. 1 water regulator.

But let’s assume that the city and the county to a significant degree will continue to control their own development destinies. In that case, it’s not unreasonable to also assume the two sides will sometimes pursue courses that generate serious conflicts over water.

To give you one tiny example of what’s at play in this complex issue, let’s take a look at the city’s Capital Projects Oversight Board.

The board has been meeting regularly to review the progress – and proposed change orders – on the city’s big-ticket capital projects. Recent agendas included reports on the Fulton Corridor and Bus Rapid Transit projects.

It seems that the amazing Recharge Fresno project gets most of the board’s attention. That makes sense – when you combine the potable and recycled water projects, the total estimated expenditure approaches $1 billion.

The status of construction of the Southeast Surface Water Treatment Facility recently came before the board. The project got its notice to proceed on Dec. 31, 2015. The $160 million project is expected to take 1,000 days. The grand opening is supposed to be in September 2018.

According to board’s April 17 agenda report, 48% of the $160 million has been spent so far while 46% of the 1,000 days has come and gone. I interpret that to mean things at the Southeast Surface Water Treatment Facility are pretty much right on schedule.

What do the Capital Projects Oversight Board and Recharge Fresno have to do with possible conflict when those lovebirds from the city and county meet further down the road?

In a nutshell, the City of Fresno is well on its way to the status of “drought resilient” that then-Mayor Ashley Swearengin promised several years ago when she launched Recharge Fresno. In an era where Sacramento wants to regulate every drop of water in the state, we might even say Fresno is well on its way to being “water rich.”

How will Fresno County officials react to that state of affairs? Will the county someday ask City Hall to help with the water-supply challenges of rural residential residents living on the outskirts of Fresno? Will the county someday ask City Hall to supply clean water to nearby clusters of rural residents (often low-income minorities) whose traditional supplies of water have turned toxic? Will the county someday ask City Hall for some of Fresno’s San Joaquin River or Kings River water to supply the water needs of residential/retail development in unincorporated areas? Will City Hall someday be in a position to use its wealth of water as a cudgel to dictate development policy to the county?

I don’t know the answers. But these questions are more compelling to me than whether retail marijuana is coming to town.

Photo: The Collegian

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