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Water Utility Hero of the Week, Phil Stevens, Padre Dam MWD

The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Phil Stevens, Padre Dam Municipal Water District Senior Lab Analyst, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week-Phil Stevens-Primary-Padre Dam MWD

Water Utility Hero of the Week, Phil Stevens, Padre Dam MWD

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. Phil Stevens, Padre Dam Municipal Water District Senior Lab Analyst, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Phil Stevens

Job/Agency: Padre Dam Municipal Water District Senior Lab Analyst

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

After serving in the military, I decided to attend college majoring in Biology. Upon graduation, I began searching for a field that is intellectually challenging, has an important role in the community, and contributes a positive impact in the environment. I found a job announcement for a laboratory analyst at Padre Dam Municipal Water District. I was not very familiar with the water industry at the time, but after doing further research it seemed like it would be a great fit for me. I have now been in this field for 18 years and still find this career very rewarding.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

As one would imagine, work done in a water quality laboratory cannot be done remotely. There have been staffing challenges when a member of the lab staff cannot come into work due to potential COVID-19 exposure or caring for a family member. Early on in the pandemic we also found it hard to get some of the supplies we needed.

How are you keeping safe?

I am keeping safe by following the health guidelines that have been established. My coworkers and I wear a mask and practice social distancing at all times and do our best to stay safe outside of work.

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

I miss my family and close friends very much and cannot wait to spend time with them. I am also looking forward to attending my children’s sporting events.

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.

Agencies Seek Relief Funds to Cover Delinquent Water Bills

Water agencies across the region are seeking help from the County of San Diego and the 18 incorporated cities in the county to provide essential financial relief for households throughout the county that are facing growing water bill delinquencies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-Water Debt-Debt Relief-Coronvirus

Agencies Seek Relief Funds to Cover Delinquent Water Bills

Water agencies across the region are seeking help from the County of San Diego and the 18 incorporated cities in the county to provide essential financial relief for households throughout the county that are facing growing water bill delinquencies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The water agencies are asking that the cities and the county allocate state and federal COVID relief funds to provide water bill offsets for financially strapped residents.

Local water suppliers “have not received any COVID-related funding assistance to help address the substantial water debt held by residents of our communities that would help to provide much-needed relief to water ratepayers,” according to mid-February letters from water officials to county and city leaders.

Helping with water debt repayment a “high priority”

“It’s very important to prioritize helping those San Diegans first who are at greatest risk of serious economic harm as a result of the pandemic so they can avoid exacerbating their dire financial conditions as the pandemic lingers,” said the letters. “We believe that helping residents with water debt repayment should be one of those high priorities, and we look forward to working with you in the coming weeks to ensure that COVID relief funds that you receive from the State or through direct federal allocation are shared in the same spirit of partnership that we reach out to you today.”

The letters were signed by the San Diego County Water Authority and 12 of its member agencies: the cities of Del Mar, Escondido and Oceanside, Sweetwater Authority, Otay Water District, Olivenhain Municipal Water District, Helix Water District, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, Vallecitos Water District, Vista Irrigation District, Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District, and Valley Center Municipal Water District. California American Water, which serves Coronado and Imperial Beach, also signed the letters.

Debt crisis

“The water suppliers would commit to see that any resources received are allocated directly to offset water bill delinquencies that have accumulated since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, or that have materially increased over the past 10 months,” said the letters.

“This accumulation of debt – along with other utility, rent, and unpaid bill debt – threatens to create a long-term and enveloping household economic crisis for thousands of San Diegans. While the water supplier community has worked closely with our Congressional partners and the Newsom Administration, there has not been COVID financial relief forthcoming directly to water suppliers to help customers with the growing crisis of household water debt.”

Pandemic-related water bill debt

Recent reports show that nearly 70,000 households in San Diego County have accumulated pandemic-related water bill debt. It is estimated that San Diego County customers alone owe as much as $50 million in water bill payments that are currently delinquent and in arrears as a direct result of the pandemic.

$1 billion in unpaid water bills

The State Water Resources Control Board recently released the results of a statewide survey of water systems which found that California residents owe an estimated $1 billion in unpaid water bills that have accumulated since the Governor issued COVID-related emergency orders in early April 2020.

Under California law, water agencies are prohibited from taking money from reserves to pay off the debt for ratepayers behind on their bills.  “As a result, an independent source of funds, separate and apart from rate revenue, is necessary to provide the types of rate offsets and relief that are so desperately needed by our customers,” the letters state.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 retail member agencies do not make a profit. Rather, rates and charges support the infrastructure and supply that provides the safe, reliable water that fuels the region’s economy and quality of life.

City of Escondido Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Carrie Selby is among a growing number of women working in water and wastewater industry careers. Photo: City of Escondido

Women in Water Symposium

The fourth annual Women in Water Symposium in March will be online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Previously hosted at Cuyamaca College, symposium sessions will be each Thursday starting March 2. This year’s conference theme is “Flow With The Change.”

Three specific career level tracks are offered to address needs at each level: entry-level for those new to water careers; mid-career for those transitioning and advancing within the industry; and upper level, for senior professionals looking to leave a legacy.

Session topics include negotiation skills; diversity, equity, and inclusion; dealing with change; the impact of COVID-19; and building a sustainable career. Program elements for all tracks are designed to create a larger community of people with the interest and aptitude to take on what were previously considered non-traditional careers.

The symposium is an opportunity for students, water industry professionals, and people exploring careers in the water and wastewater industry, to make connections.

“The Women in Water Symposium made it possible for me, as a young graduate student, to meet experienced, female engineers at any moment, from breakfast to sessions and everything in between,” said Alma Rocha, a San Diego State University graduate student studying environmental engineering.

“I got to meet so many amazing people and help them out with referrals to jobs and events that might help their career, ” said Alec Mackie with the California Water Environmental Association. “A very rewarding event.”

Vanessa Murrell, Foundation for Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges grant manager, said the conference is open to anyone, and this year is not limited by location by being held in a virtual environment.

Nurturing the next generation of water professionals

Water Authority General Manager Sandra Kerl is a longtime supporter and speaker at the Women in Water Symposium series at Cuyamaca College. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Water Authority General Manager Sandra Kerl is a longtime supporter and speaker at the Women in Water Symposium series sponsored by Cuyamaca College. This year’s symposium will take place online. Photo: Cuyamaca College

The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have created a regional workforce development task force to address the “Silver Tsunami” of experienced employees reaching retirement age. The task force reports approximately 4,500 water and wastewater positions in the San Diego region. More than 1,400 of those workers are expected to reach retirement age by 2024. Water and wastewater treatment plant operators in California earn an annual average wage of more than $72,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Registration is $25 and free to students. Attendees only need to register once for all symposium sessions. Participants can attend any session from all three tracks. Register here.

Tens of Thousands of San Diegans Are in Debt Over Their Water Bills

The coronavirus pandemic shook the economy of the United States and San Diego.

More than 100,000 people in San Diego County lost their jobs last year, and many have made tough choices financially. That’s led, in part, to nearly a billion dollars in statewide water-bill debt, according to a new report from the state water board.

“Folks are trying to scrape by and make ends meet,” said Allen Carlisle, the CEO & general manager of Padre Dam Municipal Water District. “The first things on our minds are those families who are struggling and how do we try to help them?”

Sen. Dodd Introduces Water Access Equity Bills

With the release of a new study showing low-income Californians are struggling to afford drinking water, especially amid economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, announced legislation today to provide financial assistance to customers who can’t pay their water bills and to prevent service disconnections.

“Access to water is a fundamental right of all Californians, regardless of their income level or economic status,” Sen. Dodd said. “Yet as we’ve seen today, many people are at risk of being denied this essential service, in part because of rising water rates but also because the pandemic has left so many people unemployed. My legislation will ensure low-income customers aren’t cut off and get the financial help they need to keep the water turned for their families.”

Water News Network Top Stories of 2020

The Water News Network top stories of 2020 reflect the San Diego region’s interest in water conservation, the environment and efforts to diversify water supply sources. But the year was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, which impacted water infrastructure and operations.

Lake Jennings-

Water News Network Top Stories of 2020

The Water News Network top stories of 2020 reflect the San Diego region’s interest in water conservation, the environment and efforts to diversify water supply sources. But the year was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, which impacted water infrastructure and operations.

As one of essential sectors of the economy, the water and wastewater industry took added COVID-19 precautions. The essential employees of the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies worked to ensure the continued safety and reliability of the region’s water supply. In some cases, that meant sheltering-in-place, which employees of the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant did in March. For agencies operating multiuse recreational facilities, such as Lake Jennings, the pandemic also caused frequent schedule changes.

To reassure users about the safety of the water supply, the Water Authority and its member agencies shared a series of videos with the public, featuring Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman, to let people know they can “Trust the Tap.”

Top Stories of 2020

COVID-19

Reservoirs and lakes operated by water agencies in San Diego County were closed or had varying schedules due to the coronavirus pandemic. The impact of the pandemic on recreational facilities in the region was the most viewed story of 2020.

Paddleboarding-Lake Hodges-Coronavirus-Top Stories of 2020

Paddleboarders enjoy Lake Hodges before the City of San Diego closed the lake due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: City of San Diego

Reservoirs, Lakes Remain Closed to Fishing Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

Although San Diego County’s lakes and reservoirs remain closed to fishing and other recreational activities for safety reasons due to the coronavirus pandemic, staff and volunteers continue to work. Crews are maintaining facilities, providing security, and sharing photos of wildlife and native blooms enjoying the arrival of spring.

The City of San Diego’s reservoirs and lakes are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The city closed the reservoirs to the public on March 18 to protect the public and minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The nine water supply storage reservoirs are operated by the City’s Public Utilities Department.

Popular overnight campsites remain open at Santee Lakes, owned and operated by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District.

“Camper well-being is important to us and Santee Lakes didn’t want to displace people,” said Melissa McChesney, Padre Dam communications manager. She said that includes long-term campers who spent winter at the lake.

At Lake Jennings, Recreation Manager Kira Haley says eight volunteers continue to live and work from their campground homes in recreational vehicles and campers. She said their days remain “pretty typical” even though they see more wildlife and not people.

Environmental Stewardship

COVID-19 played a part in the second most viewed Water News Network story in 2020.

Desalination plant-Top Stories of 2020-intakes

Three new fish-friendly seawater intake pumps commissioned at the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, are among the most environmentally advanced intake pumps in the world. The pumps are part of a broader effort to ensure the long-term health of the marine environment near the Plant, which sits on the shores of Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

New Fish-Friendly Seawater Intake Pumps at Carlsbad Desalination Plant

July 22, 2020

New fish-friendly seawater intake pumps recently commissioned  at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant are among the most environmentally advanced intake pumps in the world.

The three intake pumps, manufactured by Indar, are part of a broader effort to ensure the long-term health of the marine environment near the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which sits on the shores of Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

Installation of the new intake pumps is part of a phased program to replace the existing seawater intake and discharge facilities with state-of-the-art technology to protect marine life that wasn’t available when the plant was operating with source water from the Encina Power Station. The closure of the power station in December 2018 led to temporary intake-discharge operations until the new intake pumps came online. The next steps include adding new intake screens, designed to prevent any sea-life larger than 1 millimeter (thicker than a credit card) from entering the plant.

Desalination Plant-Top stories of 2020-intakes

The new intake screens are the final part of upgrades, which when complete in 2023, will make the Carlsbad Desalination Plant the first desalination facility in California to comply with the 2015 California Ocean Plan Amendment, which is among the most advanced sea-life protection measures in the world. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Essential work during COVID-19 pandemic

The work to complete the construction and commissioning of the new fish-friendly seawater intake pumps was part of the essential work allowed under California guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The contractor, Kiewit–Shea Joint Venture, worked in accordance with guidelines adopted by the State Building and Construction Trades Council and approved by Governor Gavin Newsom for essential construction. The contractor worked uninterrupted to complete the project per the June 30, 2020, deadline set by the Regional Water Quality Control Board without any health or safety violations.

Recycled Water

The groundbreaking for the Pure Water Oceanside project was the third most read story of 2020 on the Water News Network.

Pure Water Oceanside-Top Stories of 2020-water recycling

Construction is underway on the $67 million Pure Water Oceanside project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2021. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

First Advanced Water Purification Facility in San Diego County is On the Map

City of Oceanside officials and regional water industry leaders gathered today to break ground on Pure Water Oceanside, the first advanced water purification facility in San Diego County. The $67 million project – scheduled to be completed in 2021 – will purify recycled water sourced from the San Luis Rey Water Reclamation Facility.

“Today, we put Pure Water Oceanside on the map and are one step closer to achieving the goal of greater water-independence for our city, residents and businesses,” said Cari Dale, Oceanside’s water utilities director. “This future-focused project will provide multiple benefits by reusing our water resources to their full potential.”

Pure Water Oceanside-Top Stories of 2020-water recycling

City leaders and water experts placed a giant Google Maps “location pin” into the ground at the San Luis Rey Water Reclamation Facility, which marked that the new recycled water project is now officially on the map. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Reducing dependence on imported supplies

The local project will reduce Oceanside’s dependence on imported water by more than 30%. The purification process is inspired by the natural water cycle and reduces the amount of recycled water discharged into the ocean.

The project is partially funded by the Local Resources Program through the San Diego County Water Authority and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

“The tremendous conservation focus, water infrastructure planning and investment by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies has put our regional supplies in solid standing,” said Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl. “The mission of providing reliable water supplies to San Diego County can be likened to a puzzle; there are many pieces that fit together to create an overall solution. Our next increment of supply in the San Diego region is from potable reuse projects.”

Water Reuse and Recycling Top Stories in 2020

Other top stories in 2020 covered by the Water News Network included updates on several water reuse and recycling projects, including:

Pure Water San Diego

Construction of Phase 1 of the Pure Water Program is scheduled to begin in early 2021. Phase 1 will include a full-scale, 30-million-gallon-per-day Pure Water Facility that will use the five water purification steps modeled at the Demonstration Facility.

East County AWP

The East County AWP will be one of the first potable reuse projects in California to use new reservoir augmentation regulations. The program will meet up to 30% of East San Diego County’s drinking water demands, almost 13,000 acre-feet of water per year, and eliminate the discharge of 15 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Margarita River project

The Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project is a joint project with Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, and will eventually supply about 30% of the Fallbrook Public Utility District’s water, and virtually all of Camp Pendleton’s water.

Trust the Tap

Skyrocketing Coronavirus Levels in California Sewage Point to Rapid Spread of Virus

Sewage data analyzed in Silicon Valley wastewater treatment plants confirms that the latest wave of coronavirus infections is sharply worse than the ones in the spring and summer.

Officials in Santa Clara County have been routinely testing solid waste samples in sewage to detect levels of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 as part of a project funded by Stanford University.