News Feature | July 21, 2015

Amid Drought, California City Gives Away Free Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,


As a water crisis continues to plague California, one city has decided to give it away for free.

Fresno’s long-awaited free water program launched this summer with the opening of a residential fill station where locals can snag water for irrigation without paying a cent.

“Grab a bunch of five-gallon plastic bottles, give the family pickup’s suspension a once-over and make sure those back muscles are warmed up — Fresno, your free water is here. The regional wastewater treatment plant’s long-awaited recycled water program for commercial customers [is up and running],” the Fresno Bee reported.

The program makes extracted water available to residents and businesses. Extracted water is treated at a lower level than what regulators technically deem “recycled water.”

The water originates at a sewer farm about eight miles west of downtown, which “has an aquifer that, over the decades, has built up quite a load,” the report said.

To solve that problem, water experts formed a plan that could also benefit residents:

Build separate fill stations for commercial and residential customers on a secure back lot, devise a registration/education process for consumers, then relieve pressure on the aquifer by pumping (extracting) treated water and giving it away. It’s essentially recycled water, the liquid gold having been treated and allowed to percolate into the ground.

There are rules for who can draw from the supply. “The water is free, but you’ve got to live in the Fresno-Clovis metropolitan area to get it. The most important rules are 1) you must first get a customer identity card from the city, and 2) you must haul away the water yourself,” the Fresno Bee reported in a later piece.

One Fresno Bee reporter described the effort required to take free water when he toured the station before it officially opened:

Water is heavy. As the saying goes, a pint’s a pound the world around. That means one gallon is eight pounds, give or take a bit. I have a 1985 Toyota pickup with lots of miles. I wanted to haul enough water to make the trip worth the effort. But I didn’t want to crush my pickup. I figured I could safely haul 50 gallons — a 400-pound load, not counting the containers. But I didn’t have much in the way of containers at home. I went to the Walmart near Pinedale on Tuesday night and bought four five-gallon plastic bottles at $6.94 (plus tax) each. I would have bought a few more, but that’s all I found on the shelf. The bottles had screw-on caps. I went home and looked for more containers.

The city plans to continue improving its delivery infrastructure, the Bee reporter wrote. And in spite of the challenges, the writer foresaw other locals taking up the offer: “Here’s our future: July — Fresno — 100-plus degrees nearly every day — August more of the same — water sanctions galore. My prediction: Events will spur a lot of Fresnans to figure out how to get that free water.”

Image credit: "Free hugs," kevin dooley © 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: