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(L to R) Helix WD employees John Wilson, Eric Hughes, Dan Baker and Bryan Watte, and Padre Dam MWD workers Jesse Knowles and Austin Darley. Photo: Helix Water District Paradise Irrigation District

San Diego Water Pros Aid Paradise Irrigation District Following Camp Fire

Six water professionals from the Helix Water District and Padre Dam Municipal Water District spent one week in August assisting the Paradise Irrigation District with disaster recovery in the wake of the devastating Camp Fire.

The Camp Fire burned through the town of Paradise, California in November 2018. CAL FIRE reported the fire burned 153,336 acres, destroyed 18,804 structures and resulted in 85 civilian fatalities and several firefighter injuries. The Camp Fire is the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history, according to CAL FIRE.

Ten months later, Paradise remains hard at work on recovery efforts.

The fire caused significant damage to the Paradise Irrigation District’s infrastructure. As a result, more than 10,500 customers fell under a “Do Not Drink” advisory due to contamination from several harmful volatile organic compounds in distribution pipelines.

Austin Darley and Jesse Knowles hard at work in Paradise, California. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Austin Darley (kneeling) and Jesse Knowles hard at work in Paradise, California. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Padre Dam employees Austin Darley and Jesse Knowles, and Helix employees John Wilson, Dan Baker, Eric Hughes and Bryan Watte, spent a week in Paradise working to help ensure water system safety. While most customers have water service restored, the water quality is being carefully monitored.

“The majority of the work we did revolved around keeping customers in water during a three-day testing period, and reestablishing water service through a plastic jumper after samples had been drawn,” said Darley.

State emergency assistance system activated to provide mutual aid

Helix and Padre Dam are among 14 member agencies and the Water Authority participating in the California Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, or CalWARN, to support and promote statewide emergency preparedness, disaster response, and mutual assistance processes for public and private water and wastewater utilities.

Damage remaining from the Camp Fire in Paradise, California. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Damage remaining from the Camp Fire in Paradise, California. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

“This program is like an insurance policy that can provide assistance when an emergency becomes larger than our internal resources can deal with,” said Melissa McChesney, Padre Dam Communications Manager. “The situation Paradise Irrigation District finds themselves in is a good example of this. We also have agreements with neighboring water agencies in which we call upon each other for equipment or staffing when needed.”

The agencies identified staff with the skills and experience to help the Paradise Irrigation District. All agreed to volunteer for the mutual aid mission. Padre Dam employees Jesse Knowles and Austin Darley were selected to help.

“Jesse and I feel very blessed to work for an organization that is passionate about helping those in need,” said Darley. “It was an important reminder that recovery efforts continue long after the disaster leaves the news. Paradise is still in need of our thoughts, prayers, and help.”

Recovery effort not over for Paradise Irrigation District

Padre Dam Municipal Water District and Helix Water District crews at work in Paradise, California. Photo: Padre Dam MWD

Padre Dam Municipal Water District and Helix Water District crews at work in Paradise, California. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

“There’s a lot of work up here but the town is healing,” wrote Helix employee Dan Baker while working in Paradise. “I think I speak for all four of us when I say I’m proud to be a part of this.”

Water service for burned lots will be replaced as recovery progresses and new homes are built.

“It is a privilege to have the opportunity to assist our fellow Californians with this recovery effort,” added Darley. “Although we exist 600 miles apart we all have the same goal, to deliver safe and reliable drinking water to our residents and communities.”

A wooden dam helped allow Operations and Maintenance crews to make repairs to a leaking pipeline valve. Photo: Water Authority Dewatering project

Quick Solution Keeps Pipeline Repairs on Track

When Water Authority crews began dewatering part of the region’s pipeline system for a 10-day shutdown in mid-November, they discovered a leaking valve that threatened to disrupt the time-sensitive operation.

At issue was a six-foot diameter valve in the Second Aqueduct that was designed to isolate a section of pipeline so workers could safely make repairs inside a dry section of the massive pipe. Instead, the valve was seeping water, which made it impossible to start the welding work slated for the relining project in Bonsall and Fallbrook.

The leaking valve was installed in 1980 and is at the end of its useful service life. While valve failure wasn’t an immediate threat, staff had to find a quick solution to avoid delays that could have impacted water deliveries to customers.

Each winter, the Water Authority coordinates with its 24 member agencies to schedule pipeline shutdowns when water demands are low so crews can conduct routine inspections and make repairs. Timing is always critical to ensure water agencies have adequate supplies while pipes are offline.

Strategy devised to allow successful and swift repairs

Water Authority Operations and Maintenance workers made repairs to a leaky pipeline valve. Photo: Water Authority

Crews begin installing an isolation bulkhead after seepage stopped by repairs. Photo: Water Authority

The leaking valve threatened to disrupt this year’s refurbishing plan, forcing the Operations and Maintenance Department to quickly assess several potential solutions, including using absorbent materials such as rice or oats to soak up excess water. The team quickly settled on a strategy to construct temporary dams inside the pipeline and divert the seepage while repairs were made.

First, crews built a dam with 200 sandbags just upstream of the leaking valve, redirecting water into another pipeline and away from the contractor’s workspace. Then, they constructed a secondary wooden dam to collect the trickle of water seeping past the sandbags.

The solution was successfully deployed in less than 48 hours, allowing the welding project to begin on time.