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Meet the “Robots” Protecting San Diego’s Water Pipelines

Much like your body, public infrastructure needs constant care and attention. Check-ups, tests, and consistent monitoring help you stay on top of your health. It’s similar with the regional water infrastructure, with 1,400 structures, 308 miles of large pipelines, a dam, a water treatment plant, as well as pump stations and hydroelectric facilities. All pieces working together as one integrated system, much like your body, yet all of it aging, day by day.  

Monitoring and assessing the condition of the regional water infrastructure is the responsibility of the “doctor” of asset management, Martin Coghill, Operations and Maintenance Manager at the Water Authority, and his staff.   

During the last week of May, members of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors were treated to a showcase of technologies, as well as incredible stories from Coghill and his staff about their use – and how they help the organization save time and money. 

A history of innovation

The Water Authority has long been on the cutting edge of testing and utilizing the latest technology to help assess the condition of its system. This is important because Water Authority pipelines no longer traverse formerly agricultural and rural settings. San Diego County has urbanized quite a bit over the last half-century, and a ruptured pipeline in a now urban setting is likely to threaten property and the livelihoods of those living nearby.

In 2006, a large-diameter pipeline ruptured in the western portion of Mission Trails Regional Park. Thankfully, damage wasn’t worse, not only because of the remote location, but also thanks to the rapid response of Water Authority staff that closed valves to stop the flow of water.

Though the break was unfortunate, it provided critical data to the Water Authority, who had recently installed a new technology inside the pipe – an acoustic fiber optic cable. That AFO cable heard pings as the pipeline started to fail and recorded that data. As a result, that type of cable has been installed in other pipelines throughout San Diego County to help monitor their health.

Now, Coghill and his team know what it sounds like when a section of pipe is in distress. That technology works alongside other technologies to provide critical data about the condition of the pipe, which then helps Coghill and his staff develop a recommendation for repair before the pipe fails.

In the 1980’s, Water Authority staff thought up an ingenious solution to reline a certain kind of pipe called Prestressed Concrete Cylinder Pipe with new steel liners. That repair solution continues to be the preferred solution by the Water Authority and other water agencies around the world to repair those sorts of pipes. The bonus is that this method of repair saves the agency millions of dollars each year and is less intrusive than digging up and replacing those sections of pipelines. 

An eye to the future

This innovative culture continues to breed new, cost-effective solutions.  

One historical challenge has been assessing the condition of the pipe while it’s in service. In the past, pipelines had to be dewatered before crews could enter them to deploy tools and assess their condition. One fairly new technology that allows the pipelines to stay in service – saving water and money – are acoustic leak detection devices. These tools are inserted into a live pipe and travel with the flow of water. They can detect sounds of active leaks.   

Another challenge has been “getting eyes” on the inside of the approximately 1,400 structures along the pipelines. In order to inspect them on a routine basis, staff have had to climb down into the structures and take photos. The confined space makes this task hazardous and difficult. Recently, one of Coghill’s staff developed a tool using a 360-degree action camera mounted on a telescopic pole. Staff was able to save the organization money by purchasing the components separately and assembling them. This innovative solution saved the Water Authority nearly $9,000, which does not include the staff time saved from having to climb in and out of each structure to take the same photos. 

These new technologies and tools produce large amounts of very important data. It takes Coghill and his team many hours to comb through it, crunch the numbers, and analyze it to develop recommendations for repairs or replacement. His team is considering other data storage and reporting options, including use of artificial intelligence and/or other software that could streamline efforts to analyze the data.

While the technology showcase was just a one-day event, the use of the featured technologies, along with monitoring and condition assessment efforts, continue, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. At the heart of it all lies a team and their tools embedded in a culture of innovation – an investment for the future that helps safeguard our region’s long-term sustainability.

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Construction of New Recycled Water Pipelines Begins in Encinitas

Encinitas, CA—Olivenhain Municipal Water District has begun construction on new recycled water pipelines in the city of Encinitas. The pipeline extensions will allow homeowner associations in the area to convert to recycled water for irrigation of their properties.

This project phase involves installing pipeline extensions around Park Dale Lane and Gatepost Road off Village Park Way in the city of Encinitas. Work is scheduled to take place Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Additionally, restricted work hours of 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Friday, will be in effect for any work directly impacting Park Dale Lane Elementary School.

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OMWD Board Controls Spending in Two-Year Budget for Fiscal Years 2025 and 2026

Encinitas, CA—At its June 19 meeting, Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors will consider approving a two-year budget for 2025 and 2026, reflecting board direction to control costs and limit the impact to customers of impending wholesale water prices.

After consideration by the board’s Finance Committee in April, the final spending plan for fiscal year 2025 operations reflects a 2.6% reduction compared to what was originally requested by staff.

East County Advanced Water Purification Joint Powers Authority JPA Logo

East County Advanced Water Purification Joint Powers Authority Receives ‘AA’ Fitch Credit Rating

May 21, 2024 – Santee, CA – The East County Advanced Water Purification Joint Powers Authority (JPA) recently received a ‘AA’, outlook stable rating from U.S. credit rating agency, Fitch Rating. This rating is important because it shows an agency’s ability to repay its debts.

Fitch assigned the ‘AA’ rating to $415 million of interim notes that will be issued to finance the design and construction of the East County Advanced Water Purification (AWP) Program. The East County AWP Program will create a local, clean, safe and drought-proof drinking water supply using state-of-the-art technology to purify East San Diego County’s recycled water. In 2020, Fitch Ratings assigned a ‘AA’ rating to a $395.8 million Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan. Fitch affirmed that rating in 2024 as well.

 

CalFIRE firefighting helicopter flies over Loveland Reservoir. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Loveland Reservoir Serves As Vital Resource in Fighting Recent Wildfire

Earlier this week, a fire broke out near Sweetwater Authority’s (Authority) Loveland Reservoir in Alpine, California. Authority staff swiftly responded to assist emergency services with access and logistics in their effort to fight the wind-driven fire, which burned approximately 18 acres before being contained.

Loveland Reservoir, an important drinking water resource for Authority customers, served as a vital asset in providing water to firefighters during a recent wildfire response. Approximately 32,000 gallons of water were lifted from the near-full reservoir by San Diego Gas & Electric and San Diego Sheriff helicopters to aid with fire suppression.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFIRE) water trucks also used the reservoir property’s on-site fire hydrant for their fire-fighting efforts.

During the incident, the reservoir property was used as a staging area and incident command center.

“This shared effort between Sweetwater Authority and emergency services demonstrates the importance of community partnership in times of crisis,” said Board Chair Paulina Martinez-Perez. “We greatly appreciate the dedication and bravery of first responders and are proud to have been able to assist them during this incident.”

Loveland Reservoir is once again open for recreational activities. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Loveland Reservoir is once again open for recreational activities. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

During the incident, the Authority temporarily closed its Loveland Recreation Program to protect the safety of those in the area. The program has since reopened to normal hours. View more information at www.sweetwater.org/recreation.

 

Left group, front row: San Marcos councilmembers Ed Musgrove and Mike Sannella; San Marcos Deputy Mayor Sharon Jenkins; San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones. Back row: San Marcos Fire Department Fire Marshall/Battalion Chief Jason Nailon. Right group, front row: Vallecitos Board Member Craig Elitharp and President Tiffany Boyd-Hodgson, Ph.D.; Vallecitos Operations and Maintenance Manager Ed Pedrazzi. Back row: Vallecitos Board Member Jim Pennock with grandson; Vallecitos Board Member Erik A. Groset, Vallecitos General Manager James Gumpel. Photo: Vallecitos Water District wildfire preparedness HeloPod

Vallecitos Water District, City of San Marcos, and CalFIRE Collaborate on Wildfire Preparedness

In preparation for the 2024 wildfire season, the Vallecitos Water District and City of San Marcos worked with the California Division of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFIRE) to provide a new water source to aid firefighters.

On Tuesday, April 30, Vallecitos Board President Tiffany Boyd-Hodgson, Ph.D., and San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the District’s new HeloPod, including a demonstration of the new tool in use. CalFIRE representatives joined water and city officials for the event.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department helicopter demonstrates how it deploys water from the HeloPod in firefighting. Photo: Vallecitos Water District wildfire preparedness

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department helicopter demonstrates how it deploys water from the HeloPod in firefighting. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

“The Vallecitos Water District, the City of San Marcos, San Marcos Fire, and Cal-Fire have demonstrated our commitment to progress and partnership by providing the resources, expertise, people, and political will to achieve this benefit to our community. Today we are marking an occasion of progress and partnership as much as we are celebrating the milestone in-service of the HeloPod,” said Boyd-Hodgson.

“This important new weapon in our fight against wildfire stands as a testament to how government agencies can work together to protect our quality of life, our property and our community for years to come,” added Boyd-Hodgson.

See a demonstration video of the HeloPod.

The HeloPod is located next to a Vallecitos Water District-owned water storage tank east of North Las Posas Road in the Santa Fe Hills area.

CalFIRE provided the HeloPod unit to Vallecitos. Facilities and maintenance personnel installed it in its permanent location in San Marcos. It is eight feet long, six feet wide, and five feet deep.

HeloPod Helps Improve Wildfire Fighting Capacity

Vallecitos Water District personnel install the HeloPod. Photo: Vallecitos Water District wildfire preparedness

Vallecitos Water District personnel installed the HeloPod. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

The event marked a significant milestone in firefighting capacity in inland North San Diego County.

This HeloPod is a new high-capacity helicopter water dipping source — a 5,000-gallon cistern specifically designed for firefighting helicopters. It can be filled by water from Vallecitos’ Palomar Tank. It is strategically located in the hills north of Highway 78. It will serve as a vital resource for firefighting helicopters, enabling them to swiftly access clean water to contain and extinguish wildfires before they spread.

Each HeloPod holds a ready supply of 5,000 gallons of water. Photo: Vallecitos Water District wildfire preparedness

Each HeloPod holds a ready supply of 5,000 gallons of water. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

With access to a HeloPod, firefighting helicopters can fill their water tanks faster and conduct more water drops per hour. Filling up a helicopter with a HeloPod is four times faster than filling up by landing, which is vital when seconds count.

County Fire and CalFIRE are also placing large HeloPods around San Diego County. One is already in use at the CalFIRE Station in Julian, and at the CalFIRE San Diego Unit in El Cajon; at the Rainbow Fire Center in Fallbrook, and at the McCain Valley Fire Camp in Boulevard. Future HeloPods will be placed at Crouch Valley near Mt. Laguna and near the Puerta La Cruz CalFIRE Conservation Camp near Warner Springs.

Padre Dam Dives into a New Medium with Launch of The Water Drop Podcast

April 26, 2024 – Padre Dam Municipal Water District has launched a new podcast, The Water Drop to dive
into the latest information and hot topics in the water industry.

The Water Drop debuted in March 2024 and monthly episodes are planned. Padre Dam staff as well as
outside experts will discuss an array of industry topics including sustainability, trends and the future of all
things water.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Logo landscape design workshops

OMWD Hosts Ecoliteracy Showcase Featuring Local Students’ Environmental Projects

Encinitas, CA — Olivenhain Municipal Water District, the Encinitas Union School District, and BCK Programs invite members of the public to attend a free Ecoliteracy Showcase on May 7, 2024 at 5:00 p.m. at the Encinitas Farm Lab, located at 441 Quail Gardens Drive in Encinitas. The showcase celebrates local students’ year-long efforts in promoting environmental awareness and action, with a special emphasis on water conservation during Water Awareness Month in May.

South Bay Irrigation District transforms into “South Bay Water,” announces upcoming community logo contest

Chula Vista, CA  – On April 9, 2024, the South Bay Irrigation District Board of Directors approved a proclamation to rebrand the district as “South Bay Water.” The updated name enhances the connection between the district and its important role as the governance branch of Sweetwater Authority, a public water agency that serves 200,000 residents in South Bay with safe and reliable tap water.

Helix Water District crews lower the five-ton replacement valve into place for installation. Photo: Helix Water District

Helix Water District Replaces Aging Key Water Valve

One of the largest water valves key to Helix Water District operations was recently replaced. The massive five-ton, five-foot diameter valve is one of the largest in the district’s operation.

This valve isolates a section of pipe allowing water from Lake Jennings to flow into the R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant. This replacement addresses two needs: First, it replaces an aging valve, and second, it allows Helix Water District to make cost-effective improvements on a 62-year-old supply line feeding the water treatment plant.

Helix Water District crews prepare the five-ton replacement valve for installation. Photo: Helix Water District

Helix Water District crews prepare the five-ton replacement valve for installation. Photo: Helix Water District

Infrastructure Updates Preparing for East County Advanced Water Purification Program

The valve replacement is among the major improvements underway that will help move, treat, and deliver new water from the East County Advanced Water Purification Program. The program will come online for East County in 2026.

The East County AWP program creates a new, local, and drought-proof water supply using state-of-the-art technology. It will purify recycled water, producing up to 30% of East County’s drinking water.

All work on installing the replacement valve in its new location took place in one day. Photo: Helix Water District

All work on installing the replacement valve in its new location took place in one day. Photo: Helix Water District

The large valve isolates a section of the Lake Jennings pipeline, which moves water out of Lake Jennings and to the inlet of the Levy treatment plant. Since the new East County AWP water will flow through this pipeline 24 hours a day every day for the next 30 years, it is vital for the Helix Water District to inspect and make any necessary repairs to ensure the pipeline is in excellent condition before the new water source comes online. The old valve had exceeded its useful life.

Replacing the large valve also allowed the Helix WD to relocate the new valve, improving access for inspections and maintenance. The previous valve was located over 400 feet from where the water enters our treatment plant and upstream of our other supply pipeline, leaving this section of the pipeline filled with water.

The new water valve has an expected operation life of 50 years. Photo: Helix Water District

The new water valve has an expected operation life of 50 years. Photo: Helix Water District

Before relocating the new valve, Helix maintenance teams could only access this section of pipe during a treatment plant shutdown. While working on the old valve, the district needed to purchase more expensive imported water to serve its customers while the plant was shut down and unable to produce its regular supply.

With the new valve in place, fewer shutdowns will occur and prevent the need for purchasing supplemental imported water while performing maintenance and repairs. Relocating this valve and keeping the plant running was the best option for long-term operations and cost savings.

Water Valve Installation Complete In One Day

Maintenance professionals secure the new valve into place. Photo: Helix Water District

Maintenance professionals secure the new valve into place. Photo: Helix Water District

Construction started early in the morning by cutting out an existing pipe section near the treatment plant’s headworks. The new valve was lowered into position, aligned, welded together, and up and running within 14 hours. The valve is so large it takes more than 400 rotations to close it. The new value is expected to have a useful life of 50 years.

Current work to accommodate the East County AWP project is still in progress. It involves creating new access ways, removing the old valve, constructing a new vault, and preparing the Lake Jennings pipeline for inspection.

Proactive projects like the valve replacement reduce risk, give staff flexibility and redundancy, and prepare the Helix Water District for more efficient operations. Photo: Helix Water District

Proactive projects like the valve replacement reduce risk, give staff flexibility and redundancy, and prepare the Helix Water District for more efficient operations. Photo: Helix Water District

Once completed, the district will have longer-lasting infrastructure that can meet the demands of our region and future water supplies. Proactive projects like the valve replacement reduce risk, give staff flexibility and redundancy, and prepare the Helix Water District for more efficient operations.

To learn more about East County AWP, please visit https://eastcountyawp.com/