The Clovis City Council has approved landmark water deals with the Fresno Irrigation District that officials say will secure the city’s growth for decades to come.

“I think steps like this benefit both our agencies. It’s really the future of water in this state … they will be knocking on FID’s door tomorrow, other people trying to get this deal.” — Clovis City Manager Luke Serpa

According to the Clovis General Plan, the city expects 280,000 residents in 2083 — 2.5 times its 110,000 population. Plans call for Clovis to grow northeast and southeast.

The deals approved Monday on a 4-0 vote, with Mayor Drew Bessinger absent, took nearly 18 months to negotiate.

None of the people attending the meeting expressed opposition to the contracts.

“This is a bit of a monumental decision you guys just made here,” City Manager Luke Serpa told the council right after the vote. “This is the first step of SGMA compliance and it’s important we all recognize this is a very cooperative effort.

“We have not let this discussion turn into an urban versus ag discussion. It is a regional discussion. I think steps like this benefit both our agencies. It’s really the future of water in this state … they will be knocking on FID’s door tomorrow, other people trying to get this deal.”

SGMA, or the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, is a state law passed in 2014 that requires the sustainable management of groundwater supplies.

Clovis officials anticipate that some of the new water will be used to recharge the system, meaning the city can store it in basins, thus allowing it to seep into the aquifer.

Two Water Deals

The first deal expands an arrangement between Clovis and FID that has been in place in 1972. It will increase the city’s share of FID’s water from the Kings River from 6.12% to 7.12%. The increase would come out of land annexed into the city.

The increased share translates to approximately 4,500 acre-feet annually, bringing the city’s supply from FID to 32,000 acre-feet a year. The agreement runs through June 2045.

An average California household uses a half-acre foot a year.

The second deal — called a Firm Water Supply agreement — will gradually increase to 7,000 acre-feet a year through 2045, then provide that amount in perpetuity.

With the FID deals in place, Clovis has six main sources of water as it grows:

Source Acre feet per year
FID Conveyance agreement 32,000
FID Firm Water Supply agreement 7,000
Waldron Pond banking facility 9,000
Jameson-Boswell banking facility 4,500
Garfield Water District 1,170
International Water District 600

 

While the amount of water in the main agreement could vary based on water availability (wet years/dry years), the “firm” water supply is as the name suggests — a guaranteed amount of water per year no matter what.

By state law, FID controls and distributes water from the Kings River to clients, all in Fresno County — including the cities of Clovis and Fresno.

Too Good of a Deal?

Clovis Mayor Bob Whalen

“Because we’ve been so well prepared in the city of Clovis, they are going to look at us as people who are privileged because we planned well. Therefore, because we are privileged, they are going to want to take water from us and give it to those people who did not plan well, which they have a tendency to do.” — Councilman Bob Whalen

Councilman Bob Whalen expressed concern that the deal may be too good. He speculated that the state might interfere with it.

“The state of California intervenes too frequently in what we do locally. They tell us what we can and cannot do. And that’s really frustrating for us,” Whalen said.

He’s worried that by securing more water for the future, the state may come in and take it, perhaps during an extended drought.

“Because we’ve been so well prepared in the city of Clovis, they are going to look at us as people who are privileged because we planned well. Therefore, because we are privileged, they are going to want to take water from us and give it to those people who did not plan well, which they have a tendency to do,” Whalen said.

Nevertheless, Whalen said Clovis should continue to plan for the future.

Paying for the New Water

Paul Armendariz, assistant public utilities director for Clovis, said the new agreements won’t have an immediate effect on residents’ water rates.

However, Clovis will pay $5,000 an acre-foot to develop the firm water supply. The city will budget $35 million for the water in a 25-year period starting in 2020. Public utilities staff said it will require a $5 million investment at the start, which can be covered with available water enterprise funds.

Then the city will pay $1.5 million a year from 2021-2030. After that, the payment drops to $1 million a year through 2045.

Illustrating how the arrangement works: “The payments and allocations are accumulative such that by 2030, the city will have paid $20 million for access to 4,000 acre-feet (annually) of firm water supply,” states the city’s staff report.

“Between 2035 and 2045, the city will schedule annual payments of $1 million and receive (an increase of) 200 acre-feet allocations accordingly, such as that by 2045, the city will have paid a total of $35 million for 7,000 acre-feet of (annual) firm water supply.”

Said Serpa: “This may seem expensive, but it is an equitable deal for water. It will never be this inexpensive again. … It is a great deal for both agencies.”

Builders will bear $30 million of the costs via a water impact fee for developing the firm water supply. They, in turn, will pass those costs to new home buyers.

However, the size of the water impact fee is unresolved. The city expects to talk with the development community about the fee in the coming months.

City officials said the water agreements are exempt from CEQA, the state law requiring environmental review.

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