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Utilities Ramp Up Lobbying for Relief, Broader Reforms

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.

Farmers Must Diversify in a Post-Pandemic World, Ag Experts Say

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, few industries have been quite as essential to the nation as agriculture.

From pickers crouching for nine hours a day to scoop up strawberries to CEOs making handshake deals to keep their companies afloat, hundreds of thousands of workers are feeding America. But, in many ways, the pandemic is forcing farmers to reevaluate how they do business.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Ivan Martinez, City of Poway

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. Ivan Martinez, City of Poway Wastewater Utilities Worker, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Santee Lakes Supports City of Santee in COVID-19 Community Efforts

Santee, CA – Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve and Padre Dam Municipal Water District applaud the City of Santee’s “Support Our Santee” efforts to help the Santee residents and business community through the economic challenges due to the COVID-19 health emergency. The City’s plan allows for Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) deferral from the City’s hotels, which would include Santee Lakes. Santee Lakes and Padre Dam have made the decision to partner with the City in COVID-19 recovery efforts and will not defer TOT that is paid to the City.

Chula Vista Elementary students will explore science during "Innovation Week 2020." Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District

Hydro Station Joins Virtual ‘Innovation Week’ May 26-29

The Chula Vista Elementary School District’s “Innovation Week 2020” from May 26 to 29 will make a virtue of going virtual, inviting the community to participate along with its students in four live science education events. The activities include a Hydro Station lesson about groundwater aquifers.

The Hydro Station is an interactive educational space at the Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility, operated as a joint partnership between the school district, the Otay Water District, and the Sweetwater Authority.

“We’re proud that the school district can continue offering its programs at a time that’s needed now more than ever,” says Tenille Otero, Otay Water District communications officer. “Even better, is that anyone outside of the school district can experience these wonderful programs that the district offers.”

Live interactive events for students and public

“We are very excited to bring our innovative learning experiences to the San Diego region and beyond through these live, online events,” said Michael Bruder, instructional services coordinator with the Chula Vista Elementary School District. “We are also grateful to have the support of our wonderful community partners in making this happen.”

All live sessions start at 1 p.m. and will be hosted on the Microsoft Teams platform. The sessions are free and open to the public to join.

Treats teach kids about groundwater on May 28

The Hydro Station is an interactive educational space at the Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility, operated as a joint partnership between the Chula Vista Elementary School District, the Otay Water District, and the Sweetwater Authority. Photo: Otay Water District

On Thursday, May 28, at 1 p.m. Hydro Station instructor Christy Bystrak will lead “Building an Edible Aquifer.”

Participants will learn about the geology of an aquifer including confining layers, contamination, recharge, and water tables, while constructing their own version using items found at home in the kitchen, including clear plastic cups, straws, food coloring, soda, ice cream, and different types of small candy or cereal.

Additional presentations include “Engineering Superhero Tech,” “Cooking Up S’More Energy,” and “Structures for Survival.”

Located in southern San Diego County, the Chula Vista Elementary School District’s 46 schools serve more than 29,600 students. Schools serve a vibrant, diverse community that features a blend of residential areas, recreational facilities, open space, and light industry.

CVESD offers innovative partnerships such as the Hydro Station project with the Otay Water District and Sweetwater Authority as a vital part of its technology-based curriculum to develop students’ creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills.

Water Utility Hero of the Week-Ivan Martinez-City of Poway

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Ivan Martinez, City of Poway

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. Ivan Martinez, City of Poway Wastewater Utilities Worker, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Ivan Martinez

Job/Agency: City of Poway Wastewater Utilities Worker

 

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

Wastewater wasn’t my first choice, I had planned to work in another industry, but now I am very happy to be working in this field.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

Our job has changed in a big way. With this pandemic and with a shortage of toilet paper, people are using other alternatives such as paper towels and wipes. It has made an impact on our wastewater system because these items are being flushed down the toilet and that slows down the flow or causes a blockage.  We are reporting to more alarms than usual, at all hours of the day, to make sure the wastewater flows.

How are you keeping safe?

Nothing much has changed because we already take sanitary precautions. We just need to clean our equipment more frequently, constantly wash our hands, and ensure we wear our additional PPE (personal protective equipment) during this pandemic.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

I just hope that everyone is safe and healthy. Also I hope that everyone goes back to using toilet paper. LOL.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies

San Diego County Water Authority Member Agency Map

National Public Works Week Recognizes Essential Employees

Every time you fill up a water bottle or give the kids a bath, it’s due to the people working as essential employees behind the operation of water and wastewater systems within the San Diego County region’s public works infrastructure.

National Public Works Week takes place the third week of May annually in recognition of the public works professionals who provide and maintain vital public works infrastructure for the key contribution they make every day.

Water industry professionals are committed to serving San Diego County year-round by ensuring the seamless delivery of a safe and reliable water supply. During the coronavirus pandemic, dedicated essential employees have demonstrated exceptional dedication and creativity, making 2020 National Public Works Week especially significant.

Chris Walter, Helix Water District Inspector II, works while wearing a mask as an essential employee. Photo: Helix Water District

National Public Works Week Recognizes Essential Employees

Every time you fill up a water bottle or give the kids a bath, it’s due to the people working as essential employees behind the operation of water and wastewater systems within the San Diego County region’s public works infrastructure.

National Public Works Week takes place the third week of May annually in recognition of the public works professionals who provide and maintain vital public works infrastructure for the key contribution they make every day.

Water industry professionals are committed to serving San Diego County year-round by ensuring the seamless delivery of a safe and reliable water supply. During the coronavirus pandemic, dedicated essential employees have demonstrated exceptional dedication and creativity, making 2020 National Public Works Week especially significant.

Essential workers keep the water flowing

Helix Water District crews remain on the job during the coronavirus pandemic as essential employees being honored during National Public Works Week. Photo: Helix Water District

Helix Water District crews remain on the job during the coronavirus pandemic as essential employees being honored during National Public Works Week. Photo: Helix Water District

“Our employees are essential workers and they don’t take that lightly,” said Eric Heidemann, City of Poway director of public works. “From our water treatment plant operators to our technicians out in the field, they care for our Poway community and are committed to keeping our water supply safe during this crisis.”

Most of the infrastructure responsible for delivering the water the public depends on every day is hidden. This can make it easy to take a safe and reliable water supply for granted.

Bernardo Separa represents thousands of essential employees in public works being recognized during National Public Works Week. Photo: Otay Water District

Bernardo Separa of the Otay Water District represents thousands of essential employees in public works being recognized during National Public Works Week. Photo: Otay Water District

“It is very rewarding to complete projects as a team,” said Bernardo Separa, engineering design technician with the Otay Water District. “Knowing that you contributed and made a difference as a team member is a tremendous feeling.”

Safe, reliable water supply

“Our dedicated Helix employees help keep East County communities running by providing a safe and reliable water supply, 24/7,” said Carlos Lugo, General Manager, Helix Water District. “During National Public Works Week, we want to say thank you to our Helix employees for keeping the water flowing.”

Career opportunities available in water and wastewater industry

(L to R): Terry Zaragoza, Chad Weigel and Vernon Fitzpatrick from the City of Poway perform routine maintenance on a wastewater pipeline as essential employees. Photo: City of Poway

(L to R): Terry Zaragoza, Chad Weigel and Vernon Fitzpatrick from the City of Poway perform routine maintenance on a wastewater pipeline as essential employees. Photo: City of Poway

Public agencies like the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies play an important role in the region, both in terms of employment and providing critical services to support 3.3 million residents.

With approximately 1,400 water and wastewater jobs expected to open up across San Diego County in the next five years due to the “silver tsunami” wave of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, career opportunities have never been more promising.

The Water Authority and its member agencies have created a regional workforce development task force to address the “Silver Tsunami” of retirees. The task force reported that there are approximately 4,500 water and wastewater positions in the San Diego region.

As Some States Reopen, Studying Sewage Could Help Stop the Coronavirus Pandemic

In hundreds of cities across the USA, scientists hope monitoring systems will provide an early warning if coronavirus infections reemerge as communities in some states cautiously reopen.

These monitors don’t rely on testing patients or tracing contacts.

All that’s required? Human waste.

Over the past few months, private companies and university researchers have partnered with communities to collect sewage at treatment plants and test it for the presence of the novel coronavirus. The results are reported to municipal governments and state health officials to help them monitor the situation.

Testing wastewater can reveal evidence of the coronavirus and show whether it’s increasing or decreasing in a community, said Ian Pepper, a professor and co-director of the University of Arizona’s Water and Energy Sustainable Technology Center, one of the groups tracking the virus through different municipal sewage systems.

Work is now underway on the El Camino Real Potable Water Pipeline Replacement and Green Bike Lane Striping Project. Construction is expected to last about one year. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District Water and traffic

Olivenhain MWD, City of Encinitas Work Together to Keep Water and Traffic Flowing

The City of Encinitas and the Olivenhain Municipal Water District are working together on a project that keeps water supply and traffic flowing.

To prevent water main breaks and ensure reliable service to its customers, Olivenhain Municipal Water District is proactive in its repair and replacement of aging water infrastructure.

Year-long construction project underway

Map of the 4,700 foot long stretch of improvements planned along North El Camino Real. Map: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Map shows the 4,700 foot long stretch of improvements planned along North El Camino Real. Graphic: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

In early April, OMWD began construction to replace aging water infrastructure along El Camino Real in Encinitas. The work marks the start of the El Camino Real Potable Water Pipeline Replacement and Green Bike Lane Striping Project. Construction is expected to last about one year.

During the project, OMWD will replace approximately 4,700 linear feet of existing 12-inch diameter potable water pipeline along North El Camino Real from Encinitas Boulevard to Garden View Road and approximately 650 linear feet of existing 12-inch diameter pipeline between Via Molena and Mountain Vista Drive. Water service lines and fire hydrant laterals served by the existing pipelines will also be replaced.

The two pipelines being replaced were originally installed in 1961 and 1974, and are approaching the end of their lifespan.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that there more than 240,000 water main breaks in the United States every year. The main breaks waste over two trillion gallons of treated drinking water, but also interrupt water service to homes and businesses, and require costly and disruptive emergency repairs.

After OMWD’s pipeline work is complete, the City of Encinitas will implement traffic calming measures and improve safety and mobility for bicyclists along North El Camino Real from Encinitas Boulevard to Leucadia Boulevard by restriping and narrowing travel lanes.

The work will include adding bollards to existing bike lanes, applying green color to some areas on the bike lanes, and additional signage and pavement markings will also be installed.

OMWD will implement the lane restriping portion of the project on behalf of the City of Encinitas, which will take place concurrently with the pipeline replacement project.

Coordination minimizes impact on residents and businesses

The two agencies have combined efforts to maximize operational efficiencies and to reduce impacts to area residents and businesses.

Originally, OMWD’s project was scheduled to begin in 2021. Encinitas Council Member Joe Mosca and OMWD Board Treasurer Larry Watt identified the opportunity to streamline the two projects, maximizing efficiencies and minimizing impacts to the community. Because the City’s project had a deadline for grant funding, the two agencies ultimately decided it would be more efficient to advance the timeline of OMWD’s project.

“El Camino Real is a major thoroughfare and any work done there needs to be executed with maximum care and efficiency in mind to keep impacts to businesses and residents low,” said Larry Watt, OMWD board treasurer. “By coordinating the pipeline replacement project with the City’s project, the community can enjoy a continued safe and reliable water supply and improved road safety with the least disturbance possible.”

Environmental responsibility and safety

“The City of Encinitas is continuing its track record of environmental responsibility by making our streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians through the Active Transportation Enhancing Project,” said Encinitas Councilmember Joe Mosca. “The City’s partnership with OMWD on this project highlights the benefits of collaboration between neighboring public agencies on critical infrastructure projects.”

Coronavirus pandemic helps minimize impact on traffic management

Instead of conducting two projects along the same stretch of road consecutively, the City of Encinitas and Olivenhain Municipal Water District are coordinating their work to minimize disruption to the community. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Instead of conducting two projects along the same stretch of road consecutively, the City of Encinitas and Olivenhain Municipal Water District are coordinating their work to minimize disruption to the community. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

In addition to the partnership, OMWD has taken steps to minimize the impact of the project on residents and businesses along North El Camino Real. A City-approved traffic management plan will be implemented during construction. All work was originally scheduled to be completed at night to minimize traffic impacts.

As a result of the reduced traffic from the statewide stay-at-home order, the agencies adapted hours in April to 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. The change allows work to be completed more efficiently and safely.

Olivenhain will work closely with the City to monitor the project’s impact on traffic on a week-by-week basis and modify the schedule as needed along with project contractor Teichert Energy and Utilities Group while still maintaining efficient operations.

OMWD anticipates a single shutdown of water service for most businesses/residences, kept as short as possible. Project updates are posted on its website. Email questions to or call 760-632-4235.

For questions specific to the City of Encinitas Active Transportation Enhancing Project, email or call 760-943-2211.