Pinedale enclave fights Fresno water cutoff planhttp://www.fresnobee.com/2012/12/12/3099771/pinedale-enclave-fights-fresno.html
By Pablo Lopez - The Fresno Bee
Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012 | 11:29 PM
Residents of a small northeast Fresno neighborhood are in disbelief that the City Council has voted to turn off their water on Dec. 31 -- and they are fighting back.
"What's going on? Are we living in a Third World country?" said Evangelina Balli, 70, who found out Wednesday that the city will turn off the spigot to her home, 25 other homes and three businesses in an area south of Herndon Avenue between Fresno Street and Highway 41.
They will ask a judge today to keep the water flowing.
The dispute involves the 29 customers of the Pinedale County Water District who have been getting unmetered city water since 1985. But that deal is over, city Public Utilities Director Patrick Wiemiller said, because all city water users must be on a meter by Jan. 1.
Wiemiller said the city canceled the agreement to make sure it doesn't lose 60,000 acre-feet of water per year from the federal government. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water -- a 12- to 18-month supply for an average family. The 60,000 acre-feet represents 40% of the city's water supply, Wiemiller said.
Pinedale water warPDF: Lawsuit: Pinedale v. city of Fresnohttp://media.fresnobee.com/smedia/2012/12/12/14/35/16tk1Q.So.8.pdf
The federal contract says city water users must have meters -- and the city can't force Pinedale customers to get them.
Pinedale district officials say they aren't opposed to meters. They just argue that their timetable isn't as fast as the city's. And they're not happy about what they feel is the city cutting off the water without properly notifying the customers.
Without a source of water, the affected Pinedale customers will be unable to fight house fires, bathe, clean house or flush the toilet, said Fresno attorney Neal Costanzo, who represents the Pinedale district. "It puts their safety at risk and it's a health hazard," he said.
Costanzo said the city left the district with no option but to sue.
The lawsuit filed Monday charges the City Council with unlawfully voting in closed session May 17 to turn off the water and then holding a public hearing the next week without notifying the affected residents.
The City Council voted 6-0 (Lee Brand was absent) on May 24 to cut off the water. No one at the hearing opposed.
Wiemiller said the city notified the district and didn't have any obligation to notify individual customers.
The dispute has those customers upset.
"What about the children? What about my neighbors taking care of sick spouses?" Balli said. Her neighbor, Tony Duque, 68, said: "I pay my bills, but no one told me anything about this." Both Duque and Balli said they like city water and won't oppose the installation of water meters at their homes.
The 29 Pinedale customers have been getting city water since 1985, when Highway 41 was turned into a freeway and took out a well that supplied the affected area, Costanzo said.
Over the years, the Pinedale customers got a good flat rate on the water, Wiemiller said. But when the deadline for meters neared, Wiemiller said, the Pinedale district was reluctant to install them. After the May 24 council vote, the city notified the district again, but the district declined to work with the city, he said.
"We got the silent treatment," Wiemiller said.
Michael Jackson, area manager of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and operates Friant Dam, said Wednesday the federal government isn't getting involved in the dispute.
"Fresno and Pinedale have to figure it out themselves," he said. But he agreed Fresno is under a federal mandate to have water meters installed for all of its customers.
Pinedale, an independent special district formed in the 1950s, isn't required to have water meters until 2025 or within 10 years of becoming an "urban water supplier" to more than 3,000 customers, Costanzo said. The district has about 1,800 customers, he said.
Costanzo said the water district is willing to install water meters for the affected residents, but first the city must agree not to cut off their water on Dec. 31. As a temporary measure, he said the city could install a meter at the main -- like it does with county islands -- so the affected Pinedale customers pay a meter rate.
"We know the 1985 agreement has to go," Costanzo said. "We have asked the city to tell us what to do, but they have refused. Now we have to go to court to settle it."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, firstname.lastname@example.org
or @beecourts on Twitter.