In the dry, desert air of Las Vegas, it seems strange to be talking about a plentiful source of water all around us. Southern Nevada is in the grip of one of the worst droughts it has experienced in recorded history, leading to water shortages and restrictions on use.
Barely a month after he took office in 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom journeyed to a rural school in the Central Valley and stood by chance against a backdrop more prescient than he had planned: a classroom whiteboard that posed the “Essential Question — How do you respond to challenges?”
As Coachella Valley officials eye the billions on the table to address dire infrastructure needs like local mobile home parks without clean drinking water, White House senior advisor and infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu visited Thermal on Tuesday to tout funding opportunities available under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Landrieu joined U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, a Democrat who represents the 25th Congressional District, for a tour of Oasis Mobile Home Park where the infrastructure needs are particularly dire.
Gov. Gavin Newsom praised Congress for passing President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Friday night, calling it a “once-in-a-generation investment” which will help to create jobs and modernize California’s transportation systems. Newsom expect billions of dollars in additional federal funding under the bill, including another $5.8 billion over five years that will help fix California highways, which are rated among the nation’s worst. That money comes in addition to the $3 billion to $4 billion California usually gets for such programs every year.
In an increasingly hot and crowded world, clean water is becoming a precious commodity. Two thirds of the global population will have problems accessing fresh water by 2025, and removing salt and contaminants from the oceans and groundwater is one way to slake humanity’s thirst. Today’s large desalination plants, though, cost millions of dollars to build. Most use reverse osmosis, which forces seawater through salt-blocking membranes.
Lake Poway’s water level is lower today, but it isn’t due to the current heatwave. The lake is being temporarily reduced to complete a planned maintenance project to replace a transducer.
Lake Poway serves as the City of Poway’s main water storage reservoir, with a capacity to hold more than one billion gallons of water. A transducer measures the lake’s water level and remotely sends data to the city.
The city typically takes advantage of lower summer lake levels every year as part of a process to maintain the water quality and for maintenance. Water drawn down from Lake Poway is sent to the Lester J. Berglund Water Treatment Plant for treatment. Replacement water is added back in from supplies the city purchases from the San Diego County Water Authority.
Drinking water is not being discarded. Instead, the City of Poway is moving drinking water into the delivery system for treatment, and holding back on replenishing the lake until the maintenance project is complete.
The work creates a bonus for San Diego County’s avid fishing fans.
“It’s not unusual for the water level to be down in the lake this time of year,” said Allie Margie, Recreation Supervisor at Lake Poway. “Our night fishing and catfish restocking schedule aren’t affected – and with less water and more fish in the lake, your chances of making a catch might be better than ever.”
Three billion gallons of drinking water safely treated annually
Poway operates a modern water treatment and distribution system. Lake Poway serves as a storage reservoir for imported water from both the Colorado River and Northern California.
Water flows through the Berglund Water Treatment Plant, where approximately three billion gallons of drinking water are treated every year for the citizens of Poway. Once treated, the drinking water enters a system of pipes, pump stations, reservoirs for delivery to customer’s homes and businesses.
Did you know?
- The City of Poway maintains about 294 miles of water pipe.
- There are approximately 2,345 fire hydrants throughout the city.
- There are over 5,044 valves in the water system.
- Employees working in the water system are required to be certified by the State of California to work in a water system.
The Sweetwater Authority recently began a multiyear water main flushing program using innovative technology to clean all 400 miles of pipeline in its system. It’s part of Sweetwater Authority’s use of the latest technology to deliver a safe, reliable water supply to its South San Diego County customers.
Water main flushing cleans pipeline interiors by sending a rapid flow of water through them. Sweetwater’s program is the first in the region to use a new, innovative technology resulting in less environmental impact.
“We’re committed to providing our customers with high-quality water, ensuring that every drop meets safety standards and protects public health,” said Tish Berge, Sweetwater Authority general manager. “We’re also dedicated to providing the safe, reliable water through the use of best available technology and sustainable practices.”
See the system in action in the following video. A Spanish language version is also available.
New method avoids storm drain discharge
Traditional flushing methods release water from fire hydrants at a high speed in order to flush out naturally occurring sediments accumulating in water pipes over time. Although the sediment itself is harmless, it can eventually affect water color and taste. The water used to clean the pipes often cannot be captured and ends up in the storm drain system.
The bulk of Sweetwater Authority‘s flushing program now eliminates the need to discharge water from fire hydrants during the cleaning process while delivering the same results.
Crews identify all pipes, valves, and fire hydrants located in the area to be flushed. Next, crews connect one end of a hose to a hydrant and the other end of the hose to the no discharge, or NO-DES flushing unit. The process repeats, connecting a second hose to another hydrant and the other end back into the flushing unit, creating a temporary closed loop.
Once the NO-DES flushing unit is turned on and the hydrants are open, water will push through the loop at high pressure, disrupting any accumulated sediment on the inside of the pipes. The water is pushed through a series of sock-like filters, which remove those sediments and return clean, high-quality water back into the system.
Crews closely monitor the filtration system and water quality to determine when flushing of each pipeline segment is complete.
Innovative technology, efficient and environmentally responsible
With the closed-loop system and increased controls, crews are able to effectively and thoroughly flush large sections of pipeline with a single setup and staging area. This more efficient setup is less labor-intensive and allows the crew to maintain a safe hub for operations.
In the National City area 75.8 miles of pipeline was recently flushed. Crews are now completing work in the Bonita area, and then will start work in Chula Vista.
Additional water agencies have indicated an interest in the cost-effectiveness of purchasing the NO-DES flushing units for the region and collaborating to create a shared-use program with the innovative technology.
“Securing a local water supply to ensure the water delivered is of the highest quality through the best technology in our projects and programs helps to maximize value for our customers while also being sustainable,” said Berge.
For more information on the program, go to www.sweetwater.org/flushing.
The Helix Water District Board of Directors authorized its General Manager to sign water purchase agreements for the East County Advanced Water Purification project at a special meeting on May 27, 2020.
An effort to bolster food bank supplies and fight hunger in San Diego County is getting a helping hand from the region’s public water agencies.
The San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies are supporting a virtual food drive in partnership with the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank. The campaign allows donors to select and purchase items such as canned meats, vegetables, fruits, peanut butter and oatmeal for distribution to needy residents. To donate, go to www.bit.ly/SDWaterAgencyFoodDrive.
The Water Authority Board leadership launched the effort for staff and Board members in late March, then expanded it by inviting 24 retail member agencies countywide to join the effort to fight hunger. So far, approximately $20,000 has been contributed through donation portals established by the Water Authority and member agencies.
Help fight hunger
In addition, water agencies have partnered with the Food Bank to inform its clients that it is unnecessary to purchase bottled water when convenient, clean drinking water is available 24/7 at the tap for about a penny a gallon.
“The region’s water industry is committed to sustaining our community in this time of acute need,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “The San Diego region has come together time and again to meet challenges such as wildfires, and we’re doing the same to provide hunger relief during this crisis.”
Demands for food increase during pandemic
The San Diego Food Bank typically helps feed 350,000 people each month at 200 distribution sites — and demands have skyrocketed as the economic impacts of coronavirus closures ripple across the region.
Donations to the San Diego Food Bank are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. The San Diego Food Bank is a 501(c)(3) organization.
Essential workers on the job
In response to the pandemic, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have increased regional coordination and communication to ensure continued delivery of safe and reliable water service for San Diego County. Public water supplies in the region remain safe to drink due to numerous robust treatment processes used by local and regional water providers.
Across the country, public agencies are scrambling to fill holes created by the pandemic – financial holes and, worse yet, holes in the workforce. It is safe to assume, until a vaccine is developed or an antibody treatment is found, we are living the new normal.
As we hope and pray that the worst days of the coronavirus are behind us, I am so thankful that the Water Authority took aggressive early action to protect employees and that we have had no COVID-related illnesses. I’m also grateful to report that our region’s water treatment and delivery systems are in good shape, and that they continue to provide clean, safe drinking water 24/7 due to the efforts of a few thousand employees of the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. These dedicated public servants are doing their jobs day and night, despite numerous personal and logistical challenges.
That said, our region’s water agencies are collectively facing serious declines in revenues; businesses are not using water as expected, which means water sales have plummeted. Unlike some other industries, most of our costs are fixed. In fact, the Water Authority’s operating departments only account for about 6 percent of the budget.
This means that even when water sales drop, we still must pay the “mortgage” on the system – from pumps to pipes to filtration and whatever other costs we cannot control, such as increases from our water suppliers or higher costs for energy and treatment chemicals. For instance, we expect the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to raise rates in San Diego County by more than 7 percent in 2021 despite our pleas for relief on your behalf.
Details about the financial impact of coronavirus will take weeks or months to emerge, but the Water Authority is already taking proactive steps to address anticipated challenges, from instituting a hiring freeze to assessing which non-essential projects and expenses can be deferred. I assure you that we are working every day to sustain our core mission to maintain the many values that we provide our region and make smart choices to ensure our long-term viability.
It is not an easy task, but we have 75 years of history that say we can do this together – and I know we will.
On a hopeful note, the region’s water agencies have joined forces to raise thousands of dollars for the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank through voluntary donations by board members and employees. We’re always looking for opportunities to raise more money given the ongoing significance of the need. Click here to donate – and do not forget to share the link with family, friends and others who may want to participate. Every dollar helps feed those in need.