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Escondido Water Quality Lab Byron Odwazny, Associate Chemist, performs an analysis for total coliforms. Photo: City of Escondido

Water Quality Lab Team Rises to Coronavirus Pandemic Challenges

The coronavirus pandemic forced the City of Escondido’s Water Quality Laboratory to rethink its lab operations without compromising community health or employee wellbeing while ensuring the clean, safe, and efficient operation of the city. Through teamwork and creative thinking, the lab found success in maintaining its essential work.

“Whether we have a pandemic or not, people still want to open their taps and have clean drinking water,” said Ralph Ginese, supervising chemist with the City of Escondido.

Hale Avenue Resource Recovery Facility Laboratory Superintendent Nicki Branch says employee safety was addressed first.

“We immediately enforced the six-foot social distancing requirement and frequent handwashing,” said Branch. “The facility cleaning staff increased disinfection wipedown of all surfaces. We stopped having group staff and safety meetings by switching to online. We have changed our work schedule, essentially cutting it in half on a rotating schedule and allowing all employees to be able to telecommute from home periodically.”

The 14 employees have been provided additional personal protective equipment including facemasks.

“Staff is able to do administrative work, lab paperwork, study for exams, safety training, research on the industry and attend webinars,” said Branch.

Half of the staff members remain at the lab facility full-time, where they conduct analyses to verify the quality of wastewater treatment processes to safeguard community health, as well as required monthly and quarterly testing.

Unseasonal rainfall creates additional challenges

As part of ongoing monitoring at the Escondido Water Quality Lab, Associate Chemist Sarah Shapard performs tests analyzing for ammonia. Photo: City of Escondido

As part of ongoing monitoring at the Escondido Water Quality Lab, Associate Chemist Sarah Shapard performs tests analyzing for ammonia. Photo: City of Escondido

Recent heavy rains in Escondido complicated the testing process. Branch said several lab staff were placed on call in the event additional testing was needed due to a possible emergency-permitted tertiary discharge to nearby Escondido Creek due to high flows after five days of rain.

“They were all game to come in if needed on a Saturday to assist, but fortunately the operations staff worked miracles to keep us from discharging,” said Branch. “Heavy rains also caused a situation where additional sampling of lakes for drinking water analysis occurred, and the lab staff responded immediately to help the drinking water division with sampling and analysis.”

The Escondido lab routinely tests six sample sites along the outfall line.

“It’s a full-blown scan, so getting samples to contact labs would have been a real challenge,” said Ginese, crediting the work of the city’s operations staff to prevent any discharge into the creek.

“I am so proud of all the staff at the HARRF Laboratory for responding to this Covid -19 pandemic in a professional manner, adapting quickly to our City policies requiring social distancing, and for offering to come in on emergency situations when needed,” said Branch.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have increased regional coordination and communication to ensure the coronavirus pandemic does not impact safe and secure water service for San Diego County.

READ MORE: Escondido Employee Named California Laboratory Person of the Year


Ranchers Sue Trump Administration, Arguing Water Rollback is Federal Overreach

A group of ranchers sued the Trump administration Monday over a rollback to an Obama-era water rule they argue is still too strict.

Construction Begins on Essential Water Project in Mission Trails Regional Park

The San Diego County Water Authority is making progress on the construction of a new 5 million gallon underground reservoir in Mission Trails Regional Park. The underground reservoir is also known as a flow regulatory structure.

Classified as a “critical or essential” infrastructure project during the COVID-19 response, the project is moving forward to stay on schedule.

Virus Prompts California to Study Air Pollution, Public Health

California regulators are seizing on a chance to study the public health effects of air pollution, as stay-at-home orders and drops in freight traffic related to the coronavirus pandemic have presented a unique research opportunity.

‘Borrowing From the Future’: What an Emerging Megadrought Means for the Southwest

It’s the early 1990s, and Park Williams stands in the middle of Folsom Lake, at the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills in Northern California. He’s not walking on water; severe drought has exposed the lakebed.

“I remember being very impressed by the incredible variability of water in the West and how it’s very rare that we actually have just enough water,” said Williams, who went on to become a climate scientist at Columbia University. “It’s often the case there’s either too much or too little.”

Williams is the lead author on a report out this month in the journal Science detailing the extent of drought conditions in the American West.

Hollister Water Reclamation Plant Named Best in California

California Water Environment Association names Hollister Water Reclamation Facility Best Small Wastewater Plant for 2019.

Opinion: California and Federal Government Need to Resolve Differences on Water Supply Issues

Dan Walters’ column does a good job describing a potential water battle that all Californians should want to avoid. The historic cooperation between the state and federal governments that has managed California’s water supply is threatened by this looming battle. We can’t let that happen.

Back Off the Beach and the Rising Sea? No Way, California Cities Say

The view from high up in Del Mar’s 17th Street lifeguard station is a visit-California poster: a sweeping curve of sand, dramatic coastal bluffs, a welcoming sea. What scientists see, though, is somewhat more sobering: the Pacific Ocean as seething menace, a marine battering ram born of climate change that will inexorably claim more and more land and whatever sits upon it.

With rising seas now posing a greater threat to California’s economy than wildfires or severe earthquakes, state authorities are cautioning those who live along some of the Golden State’s famous beaches to do what they’re loath to do: retreat. Turn their backs to the sea and move homes, businesses, schools and critical infrastructure out of harm’s way.

The ocean could rise two to ten feet by 2100, imperiling $150 billion in property, according to state estimates, and erasing two-thirds of California’s beaches.

Bernhardt: Newsom’s Water Gambit “Potentially Unlawful”

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt isn’t shying away from reminding Californians who reigns supreme in its water wars. In a letter issued Tuesday, Bernhardt reminded California leaders that its ability to act unilaterally in enacting restrictive rules governing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is limited and could violate the law.

Researchers Say COVID-19 Building Closures Could Affect Water Quality

While restaurants, gyms, schools and other buildings are closed indefinitely to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the quality of water left sitting in pipes could change.

In buildings nationwide, water left sitting for long periods of time could contain excessive amounts of heavy metals and pathogens that are concentrated in pipes, say researchers who have begun a field study on the impact of the pandemic shutdown on buildings.

The problem of stagnant water may not be confined to buildings recently closed. Water could have been bad for months or years in old hospital buildings that cities are reopening to accommodate a potential influx of COVID-19 patients.