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Northeast Fresno Water Crisis

Case Study: Northeast Fresno Water Crisis

The Problem

(Fresno, CA) Northeast Fresno is populated with over 70,000 residents, many of whom are the most affluent in the City. In 2004, over 15,000 homes located in this district were switched over to a new drinking water source. That same year, the City started receiving complaints of discolored and contaminated drinking water. Upon consequential testing of the water for lead, 40% of homes tested positive while many tested 3 times the EPA safety levels. The complaints were largely ignored by city staff for 12 years. In early 2016, the discolored water problems plagued hundreds of homes. These homeowners were unable to get answers from City officials, who blamed the residents, specifically the pipes in their homes, for the discolored water. The group’s inability to organize, create a clear message, and pressure City Hall prevented them from having access to clean water and to have their pipes replaced.


The Plan

Carter & Co. Communications was called in to help the citizens of Northeast Fresno organize, unite, and prepare a unified front to the City. The goal was to convey the necessity of homes being tested rapidly to prevent more children and pregnant women from unknowingly drinking contaminated water. Agencies outside of the City of Fresno were contacted to help build momentum around the issue, ie. Ca. State Water Board, EPA, Fresno County Health, etc. Citizens needed easier pathways to access elected officials. There needed to be a sense of urgency around the issue that didn’t exist.

Carter & Co. established an ongoing communication plan which enabled the dissemination of critical information to a large population of citizens in the community. We created a concise message, which enabled the citizens to be heard by City Hall.

An informal organized group was created to carry our messaging. “Fresno Citizens for Clean Water” was formed with professional branding, social media, organized collateral materials, email marketing, and an aggressive earned media campaign. With this, the narrative changed from being a few isolated reports of homes with discolored water, to a “state of emergency” affecting the entire district of Northeast Fresno. This initial effort resulted in over 500 citizens attending a water town hall meeting as a united group. Talking points were created, signs and visual messages were prepared, and the Fresno Citizens for Clean Water demanded answers from Fresno City Council. Answers came.

The Result

The City was forced to admit fault in the premature corrosion of the homeowners’ pipes due to lack of proper anti-corrosion processes during the change in the water source in 2004. City staff engagement with these citizens has improved significantly since the community became organized and brought widespread public attention to the issue.

Earned Media Coverage

Carter & Co. was responsible for the reporting of over 137 (to date) news stories by the local, state and national media outlets. With the media coverage so intense and continuous, political pressure was placed on the elected and appointed representatives responsible for the oversight of safe drinking water. The city was successfully pressured to hire the same experts who uncovered the Flint, Michigan water crisis. A $1,000,000 contract was recently approved to have these experts determine the remedy and best next steps.


Northeast Fresno Water Crisis / Citizens for District 6


Advocacy / Government Relations


Grass Roots Activism / Public Relations

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