This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Dale Austin, Vallecitos Water District Senior Pump & Motor Tech, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.
Archive for date: June 1st, 2020
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The nation’s water utilities, facing more than $27 billion in lost revenue from the pandemic, are ramping up their outreach to Congress as lawmakers prepare to act on infrastructure legislation and additional relief in the face of a historic pandemic.
In addition to a flurry of letters and meetings, advocacy groups and lobbyists with congressional expertise are pushing for provisions in both Water Resources Development Act bills moving through the House and Senate, and the next round of COVID-19 stimulus funds.
In the near term, the bills could be a lifeline for both residents and utilities reeling from the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Over the longer term, some hope the bills could provide a pathway for revamping a highly fractured, aging water system — old lead pipes, vulnerable dams and 1,500 drinking water systems in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, said Robert Powelson, CEO of the National Association of Water Companies.
Several regional water supply projects in San Diego County are on track to receive more than $15 million from the California Department of Water Resources, pending a final decision this summer. Money for the projects has been recommended by DWR, which will make the awards after a public comment period. In San Diego County, the funds would support local agencies to advance conservation, environmental enhancements, water purification and other initiatives.
Staring down a $3 billion — and growing — tab to clean up water sources at military installations across the country that are contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals linked to firefighting foam, the Defense Department is now in discussions with private firms about potential cleanup solutions that might reduce the cost.
The term “crisis on the border” typically refers to immigration issues or drugs being smuggled into the country. But it has one more meaning, as we discovered, when we went to the border in early February: tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage that spill every year into the Tijuana River on the Mexican side and flow across the border right into Southern California, polluting the land, air, and sea.
With its proposed Doheny desalination plant facing hurdles because of costs and a lack of partner water districts, the South Coast Water District board has agreed to spend $73,000 to study a scaled-down alternative. The district has spent $7.9 million so far for the preliminary design, environmental impact report and other early development steps for a standalone four-well plant near Doheny State Beach. And it is continuing its pursuit of necessary permits, which it hopes to have in hand by mid-2021.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, May 28, gave a $196.4 million loan to the Inland Empire Utilities Agency to expand its wastewater treatment plant in Chino. Loan dollars will be used to help finance an expansion of the IEUA’s Regional Water Recycling Plant No. 5, located at 6063 Kimball Ave., the EPA announced.
A long-sought compromise has been approved that will open the stagnant, reed-filled Buena Vista Lagoon to the sea and restore its native coastal marine habitat, but years of work remain before the transformation begins. Disagreements over whether the lagoon at the border of Carlsbad and Oceanside should remain freshwater or be restored to saltwater have stalled the project for decades.
Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Dale Austin, Vallecitos Water District Senior Pump & Motor Tech, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.
Water Utility Hero of the Week: Dale Austin
Job/Agency: Vallecitos Water District Senior Pump & Motor Tech
How did you become interested in working in the water industry?
I had friends and a neighbor that worked for different agencies and different jobs. They all talked highly of their agencies and the jobs they did. I wasn’t sure where I would fit into the industry so I took classes in Water Distribution, Water Treatment, and Wastewater Treatment. I learned so much in those classes. I applied and got my first job in Water Distribution where I could apply my skills as a Certified Pipe Line Welder and Machinist, but my passion has always been in mechanical, so I transferred to a treatment plant which led me to my current job with Vallecitos.
How has your job changed during the pandemic?
I pride myself in having my equipment 100% available, so with the pandemic Vallecitos is doing a rotating schedule to help with distancing and safeguarding the crews. Staying in contact with the crew on duty via email and phone. Prioritizing work loads and talking to vendors. I don’t personally like to carry my phone when not at work but with the pandemic it is a very important tool to stay in contact with everyone.
How are you keeping safe?
By following guidelines from the CDC, maintaining social distancing, and following good hygiene.
What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?
Sitting down at a restaurant for dinner and going to the movies with my wife.