Fresno Must Choose: Drinkable Water, or Clean Air

Fresno Skyline (Strangevisitor / Flickr / CC)
Strangevisitor / Flickr / CC

California’s four-year-long drought is forcing cities across the state to make tough choices about water conservation. Now, one city will be forced to make its toughest choice yet: cleaner air, or more drinkable water?

On Thursday, Fresno’s City Council is set to consider a proposal that would allow the suspension of its hydrant-meter program, according to the Fresno Bee. The hydrant-meter program allows construction companies to obtain water from the city for spraying on construction sites to keep dust down and mitigate air pollution.

According to the Bee, the city wants construction firms to use non-potable water from the wastewater treatment plant for spraying on dust, in an effort to conserve as much water as possible. There is just one problem: the wastewater treatment plant sits seven miles west of the city’s center, meaning construction firms would have to send fleets of trucks to pick the water up, further contributing to air pollution.

At a time when Fresno must do its part to contribute to a 25% statewide reduction in water usage, the dilemma is a serious one.

The hydrant-meter program uses up a lot of water. According to the paper, the program used nearly 65 million gallons of water between July 2014 and March 2015, or about 233,000 gallons per day. 65 millions gallons is equal to about 1% of what Fresno must cut to comply with Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order, and the temptation to instantly save that water is strong.

Other cities face similar dilemmas.

Last week, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission said that using wastewater to cut down on air pollution at construction sites violates the state’s public health regulations. Water activists confronted the city last week after discovering that potable water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir was being used to tamp down dust at the Candlestick Park demolition site.

But SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue said using another source of water would be illegal.

“The us of potable water is both authorized and necessary for aerial dust mitigation activities,” Jue said in a statement.

Fresno’s City Council will have a lot to consider when it votes on the proposal Thursday. Councilman Steve Brandau told the Bee that he will take a cautious approach.

“I see valid reasons on both sides,” Brandau told the paper.


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