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Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT Team Ready to Respond

To protect its employees, members of the public, and the environment from any accidental chemical releases or exposure, the Vallecitos Water District has established its own internal Hazardous Materials Response Team or HAZMAT team.

Water Authority Board Honors Retiring Otay Water District GM Mark Watton

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday honored Otay Water District General Manager Mark Watton for 37 years of public service in the water industry.

The Board issued a proclamation congratulating Watton on “his long and distinguished service to San Diego County upon his upcoming retirement from the Otay Water District” and commended him “for a lifetime of service that has improved the quality of life in our region.”

After 15 years leading the water agency that serves Southeastern San Diego County, and nearly four decades representing the water interests of the county and state, Watton plans to retire in late March. He first served on the Water Authority’s Board of Directors in 1985 and was Board Chair from 1995 through 1996.

“A wonderful career” — Mark Watton

Watton’s water industry career began in 1983, when he was elected to Otay’s Board of Directors. He served in that role for 18 years. Watton was then hired as Otay general manager in 2004.He currently manages the district’s $106 million annual operating budget and 138 employees.

“I’m completely satisfied. It’s been a wonderful career,” said soon-to-retire General Manager Mark Watton. “It’s so gratifying to retire in this industry, knowing there is a new generation coming in, like our new general manager, to continue doing a great job.”

Watton was referring to Otay’s Assistant Chief of Water Operations, Jose Martinez, a U.S. Navy veteran, who was recently hired to be Otay’s new general manager.

Watton also was instrumental in securing high-priority Colorado River water for San Diego County through the Quantification Settlement Agreement.

“Mark was a key player in diversifying the region’s water supply by securing highly reliable supplies from the Colorado River that will continue to benefit our region for decades,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “If we had a hall of fame for water pioneers in the San Diego region, Mark Watton would definitely be a member.”

Innovative leadership

The Otay Water District provides water, recycled water, and sewer service to approximately 224,000 customers within roughly 125 square miles of southeastern San Diego County, including the communities of Chula Vista, Jamul, Spring Valley, Rancho San Diego, and unincorporated areas of El Cajon and La Mesa, as well as Otay Mesa along the international border with Mexico.

Under Watton’s leadership, Otay has enlisted the use of drones to modernize preliminary inspections of the district’s 40 potable water reservoirs, four recycled water reservoirs, 20 pump stations, and a recycled water treatment plant. Drone technology saves employee time, improves the safety of workers performing inspections, and ultimately delivers greater value to Otay’s customers.

Watton has also presided over Otay’s deployment of its state-of-the-art leak detection and repair program that has reduced water loss 43% over seven years. In 2018, a 3.3% reduction in water loss saved Otay customers $1.3 million, helping to keep rates low.

“Mark has made a significant impact locally for Otay’s service area, but also regionally and statewide,” said Otay Board President Gary Croucher. “He is a thought leader and his dedication to the water industry in our region is unmatched.”

Prudent financial manager

Watton’s leadership has maintained Otay’s AA credit rating from Standard & Poor’s for more than a decade. While many public agencies struggle to keep up with their pension obligations, Watton’s prudent management of Otay’s finances made it possible to fully fund the District’s Other Post-Employment Benefit plan and substantially fund its pension plan in upcoming years.

An innovator throughout his career, he identified an opportunity for a binational solution to Otay’s continued need to diversify its water supplies. On May 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of State granted Otay a presidential permit to build a nearly four-mile potable water cross-border pipeline and associated facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border for the importation of desalinated seawater produced in Mexico. Although obtaining the presidential permit was a milestone accomplishment, Otay’s part of the project is no longer moving forward.

Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT Team members go through the decontamination process as part of a recent training drill. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT Team Ready to Respond

To protect its employees, members of the public, and the environment from any accidental chemical releases or exposure, the Vallecitos Water District has established its own internal Hazardous Materials Response Team or HAZMAT team. Maintaining its own internal team allows a 24-hour response capability.

Common hazardous chemicals play vital roles in the water and wastewater industry for disinfection and odor control. They are also used in fueling and maintaining agency vehicles, generators, pumps, and motors.

A HAZMAT team is an organized group of professionals who receive special training to handle hazardous materials or dangerous goods. A HAZMAT team responds to oil, chemical and other liquid spills, industrial and military explosions and accidents during transportation, and similar incidents.

Decontamination equipment is ready to treat HAZMAT team personnel following exposure to toxic chemicals. Photo: Vallecitos Water DIstrict

Decontamination equipment is ready to treat HAZMAT team personnel following exposure to toxic chemicals. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

The Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT team consists of 20 members from different departments. They complete U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response training, which provides a set of guidelines regulating hazardous water waste operations and emergency services in the U.S.

When an emergency call requires HAZMAT team response, individual members move from their regular job assignments to the HAZMAT Response Trailer. The team then mobilizes to the site of the emergency.

HAZMAT team protects people and the environment

Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT team members conduct a debriefing after a training drill. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT team members conduct a debriefing after a training drill. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

“It’s a great honor just knowing we’re here to protect people in the surrounding areas, to protect the environment, and to know we’re here to jump into action in case there’s an issue,” said Matthew Wiese, senior plant operator at the Meadowlark Treatment Facility. “We’ve trained and we’ve gone through scenarios. Being able to act with confidence, it’s a great thing to be a part of that team.”

Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT team members wear specialized personal protective equipment and clothing to make safe entries into potentially hazardous areas. If a leak or spill of chemicals occurs, the HAZMAT team uses specialized tools and equipment to identify, and stop the release and spread of any contamination as quickly as safely possible.

Team members conduct monthly drills on common scenarios.

“If there was a release of chlorine gas which we use to conduct our wastewater treatment activities, we have specialized equipment and materials to lock down those cylinders so we can stop the release,” said Trisha Woolslayer, risk management supervisor. “We practice on a regular basis so we react quickly if an accidental release were to occur.”

Watch video of a recent training exercise.

Following each exercise, all team members hold a debriefing to discuss their observations, and how procedures might be improved.

Woolslayer said swifter response times and cost savings offset the investment in training and equipment by the District.

“It allows us to respond quickly, to stop whatever spill it is and protect the environment,” she said. “There are also cost savings. We spend on training and equipment, but it is a small amount compared to having a response contractor on call.”

Vactor Truck-Leucadia Wastewater District-

Water Agencies Team Up to Reduce Potable Water Use

The Olivenhain Municipal Water District and Leucadia Wastewater District are reducing potable water use by switching to recycled water to flush sewer lines in their service areas.

With the recent installation of new equipment by both agencies, recycled water is now available to Leucadia for sewer line maintenance in the Village Park neighborhood in Encinitas and in the La Costa neighborhood in Carlsbad.

Regular flushing is important for gravity-fed sewer line maintenance. The process involves filling a specialized sewer cleaning vehicle, known as a vactor truck, with water and injecting the water into a sewer main. Flushing the pipes in proper working condition extends their lifetime by removing materials such as grease and roots, which can cause clogs and sewage overflows. Once flushed, a pipeline can be inspected and its condition assessed.

Recycled water, not potable water, now used to flush sewer lines

Prior to this project, Leucadia did not have access to recycled water in Olivenhain’s service area, instead filling vactor trucks with potable water. Leucadia identified the opportunity to reduce potable water use and save its ratepayers money, and approached Olivenhain about creating points at which the wastewater district could fill trucks with recycled water. Five locations throughout Encinitas and Carlsbad were selected.

“It’s a pleasure to partner with neighboring agencies for the common good,” said Olivenhain Municipal Water District Board President Ed Sprague stated. “Simple changes such as these add up and help ensure a reliable water supply for future generations.”

Regional partnership conserves drinking water

“Leucadia is excited to continue its regional partnership with the Olivenhain Municipal Water District,” said David Kulchin, Leucadia’s board president. “Using recycled water to clean sewer pipelines not only saves precious potable water supplies but continues our efforts to utilize renewable resources to the maximum extent possible.”

In addition to sewer line flushing, municipal street sweeping vehicles that were previously using potable water will be able to access recycled water thanks to the new connections. In accordance with state regulations governing recycled water use, the vactor trucks and street sweeping vehicles will have separate filling systems for potable and recycled water.

Approximately 14% of Olivenhain’s overall water demand is met with recycled water. Olivenhain produces up to two million gallons per day of recycled water at its 4S Ranch Water Reclamation Facility and supplements additional demand with recycled water purchased from Rancho Santa Fe Community Services District, City of San Diego, Vallecitos Water District, and San Elijo Joint Powers Authority.

‘Baking Skills’ Used for Repair at Lake Hodges Pumped Storage Facility

You might not think ‘baking skills’ would come in handy to fix a recent problem at the Lake Hodges Hydroelectric and Pump Station Facility. But those skills, along with initiative and ingenuity, were demonstrated by San Diego County Water Authority staff as part of the creative and complex repair.

The facility connects the City of San Diego’s Hodges Reservoir with the Water Authority’s Olivenhain Reservoir. The connection provides the ability to store up to 20,000 acre-feet of water at Hodges for emergency use.

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‘Baking Skills’ Used for Repair at Lake Hodges Pumped Storage Facility

You might not think ‘baking skills’ would come in handy to fix a recent problem at the Lake Hodges Hydroelectric and Pump Station Facility. But those skills, along with initiative and ingenuity, were demonstrated by San Diego County Water Authority staff as part of the creative and complex repair.

The facility connects the City of San Diego’s Hodges Reservoir with the Water Authority’s Olivenhain Reservoir. The connection provides the ability to store up to 20,000 acre-feet of water at Hodges for emergency use.

The Lake Hodges Hydroelectric and Pump Station Facility moves water between Olivenhain and Hodges, and is able to generate up to 40 megawatts of energy on demand, helping to manage electrical demands throughout the County. It also generates revenue and helps offset energy costs.

Ground fault alarm alerts staff

A ground fault alarm on August 25, 2019 alerted staff to a potential problem with Unit 2, one of the facility’s two 20-MW pump-turbine units. A series of tests and inspections by staff with the Water Authority’s Rotating Equipment team discovered the insulation on the copper bus bars of the generator’s rotor were worn and damaged. The bus bars are part of a system that provides DC power to the 12 electromagnets which surround the outer surface of the pump turbine unit’s rotor.

The rotors are designed to spin at 600 revolutions per minute and it’s the rotor’s electromagnets acting upon the stators windings that generates power. The electromagnets are connected together by copper bus bars located on top of the rotor and the bus bars are secured to the rotor by clamping plates and rim studs. The bus bars are insulated to ensure the copper does not touch any other metal surface and cause an inadvertent ground fault.

“Although a single ground fault may not damage the pump-turbine unit, it may prevent it from starting, if two ground faults were to occur, significant damage to the pump-turbine unit would occur and would also be an extreme danger to anyone within the facility,” said Jim Fisher, Water Authority director of operations and maintenance.

Creative solutions and ingenuity save time, money

Among various factors, the primary cause of the insulation failure was determined to be improper wrapping and curing of the insulation during initial installation.

Water Authority staff developed solutions and also took on the repair tasks in September. By doing the work in-house, the Water Authority avoided a more extensive outage due to long lead times required by contractors and vendors to perform the same work, saving time and money.

“Staff did an excellent job maintaining the operation of Unit 1 while making the repairs to Unit 2,” said Fisher, “which allowed the Water Authority to avoid a total shutdown and loss of all revenue during this period.”

HodgesRepairWNN-Water Authority

Initiative and ingenuity by San Diego County Water Authority staff led to a creative repair solution at the Lake Hodges Hydroelectric and Pump Station Facility. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

‘Baking skills’ come in handy to create new bus bars

New copper bus bars were fabricated, and each had to be precisely wrapped by 5 different types of insulating tape materials. This wrapping process alone took approximately 8 hours per bus bar. The bus bars were then baked for ten hours within newly designed and fabricated aluminum molds to ensure proper pressure was applied to the insulation layers during the baking and curing process.

Staff efficiently re-purposed and utilized an oven that had been retained from the San Vicente Dam Raise Project to perform the baking. The Rotating Equipment team’s efforts produced excellent quality results which would have been difficult even for a vendor to meet. The newly insulated bus bars were re-installed, and the unit has been operating safely and without issues.

The initiative, ingenuity, and highly technical skills and knowledge of our staff were once again on display throughout the repairs,” said Fisher. “Their dedication, talents and outstanding efforts continue to ensure the Facility’s efficient and safe operation.”

Unit #2 was tested and placed back into service on November 17, 2019.

Along with the bus bar insulation and curing process repair, staff also performed many other highly technical, innovative and precise processes to complete this repair work.

San Diego Plans to Use Drones, Monitors to Reduce Water Main Breaks, Sewer Spills

San Diego sharply reduced the number of water main breaks and sewer spills across the city last year, saving ratepayers money and helping many neighborhoods avoid significant disruptions.

City officials credited the decreases to ramped-up maintenance and replacement efforts on water mains, sewer lines and pipes, particularly those made of cast iron.

And to further reduce breaks and spills, San Diego officials say they will soon begin using drones and other monitoring devices to look for early warning signs of potential problems.

UC Merced Researchers Working on Innovative Way to Desalinate Ag Water

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) — A new project at UC Merced is focusing on irrigation water.
The work could have a significant impact on the crops that are grown throughout the Central Valley.

“We’re trying to take two problems and come up with one solution out of the two of them. We have an excess of drainage water which has excess salt in it, and we need cooling of agricultural greenhouses,” says assistant professor James Palko.

Valley Center MWD Cool Valley Reservoir

Valley Center Reservoir Project ‘Exceptional’

The Valley Center Municipal Water District has been advised by the California State Water Resources Control Board that its Cool Valley Reservoir Cover Replacement Project was recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency’s new AQUARIUS Program as an “Exceptional Project,” among only 10 identified as such nationwide.

Each year, EPA’s Aquarius Program recognizes one Drinking Water State Revolving Fund project from each of its 10 regions nationwide for “exceptional focus on sustainability, protection of public health” while demonstrating a high level of innovation.

The $4.2 million Cool Valley Reservoir Cover Project was nominated by the SWRCB, EPA’s state-level partner in the DWSRF Program in California.

Cool Valley Reservoir Project ‘Innovative’

Constructed in 1975 and with the original floating flexible reinforced “Hypalon” material installed in 1992, Cool Valley is Valley Center’s largest drinking water reservoir with a capacity of 57 million gallons, providing about 40% of the District’s total covered drinking water storage capacity. By 2015, the floating cover had reached its full life expectancy and started to experience failures, possibly placing the quality of the water in the reservoir at risk. 

At that point the decision was made to take the reservoir out of service and seek DWSRF financing to cover the estimated $4.2 million project cost, rather than make additional repairs to the existing liner. 

With interim adjustments to system operations and cooperation from Valley Center’s wholesale supplier, the San Diego County Water Authority, the system operated reliably with Cool Valley off-line.

‘Exceptional Project’ reduces bacteria and energy use

District engineering staff and consultants were successful in securing the 20-year loan at 1.6% interest. With the loan secured, the project was approved by the Valley Center Board in the FY 2015/2016 Budget.  The project took 12 months to complete and was back on line by mid-2017. The effort was overseen by Wally Grabbe, District Engineer and managed by Dennis Williams (retired), Deputy District Engineer. 

Projects nominated by the states must meet three major criteria, including providing Safe Drinking Water Compliance, Public Health Benefit and having Financial Integrity.  Additionally, each project must demonstrate leadership in dealing with emerging contaminants, aging infrastructure or innovative financing, affordability, water loss control, efficient water and/or energy use, creative approach to project planning and implementation, and/or creating water system partnerships.

In making the award, the SWRCB and EPA noted that the Valley Center Cool Valley Project will not only protect water quality from atmospheric vectors, but the new cover-liner will “prevent leakage from the reservoir, reduce bacteria by creating a barrier between the drinking water and the concrete liner… and reduce chemical and energy use.

During the same period of time, the Valley District designed and installed a 95kW Photovoltaic Solar Array and upgraded the Cool Valley Pump Station, all located on the Cool Valley Reservoir site.

Crews loaded the 130,000 pound stainless steel cone onto a barge and finished assembling it above water before lowering it into the reservoir. Image: Water Authority

New Oxygenation System to Improve Reservoir Water Quality

The City of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department last week took a major step toward completing an innovative project to improve water quality in Lake Hodges. A newly installed oxygenation system, designed by city engineers, will introduce highly oxygenated water to the bottom of the reservoir to reduce the accumulation of excess nutrients and harmful algae growth.

The increase of nutrients and algae in the water has been caused by human activities in the watershed upstream of the reservoir, including residential and commercial development, agriculture, and land clearing. Degraded water quality can restrict the ability to move water in and out of the reservoir.

“The ‘Speece cone’ is a fairly unique method for adding oxygen to a reservoir – there are only a few of them in the world,” said Jeff Pasek, project manager at the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department. “This project derived from a planning study that was done about five years ago, which identified oxygenation using the ‘Speece cone’ as being the most cost-effective way of addressing the water quality problems in Hodges.”

Last week, the 130,000 pound cone – named after the inventor of the technology, Richard Speece – was lowered eighty feet to the bottom of the reservoir.

Streamlined operation for maximum efficiency

The precisely coordinated operation involved lifting the 20-foot tall stainless steel cone with a large crane, while simultaneously driving a barge out from underneath. Once the cone was lowered into the water, divers headed to the bottom of the reservoir to unhook the cone from the crane, check to make sure it settled in the correct spot, and fasten it down.

In order to build a solid foundation underwater, crews excavated approximately 11 feet of silt from the bottom of the reservoir and constructed a concrete base. Before submerging the cone, crews installed and tested a pump that will move water through the cone. A large diffuser pipe was then lowered and connected to the cone by divers. The diffuser will distribute the oxygen-rich water throughout the reservoir.

Now underwater, the cone will distribute oxygen-rich water throughout the reservoir to reduce the accumulation of excess nutrients and prevent harmful algae growth. Image: Water Authority

Now underwater, the cone will distribute oxygen-rich water throughout the reservoir to reduce the accumulation of excess nutrients and prevent harmful algae growth. Photo: Water Authority

Local and regional benefits at Hodges Reservoir

Hodges Reservoir is owned and operated by the City of San Diego, and it serves the San Dieguito Water District and the Santa Fe Irrigation District. It is connected to the San Diego County Water Authority’s Olivenhain Reservoir as part of the Emergency & Carryover Storage Project, which is designed to ensure regional water reliability in case of emergencies or if the region is cut off from imported water supplies.

“There are multiple benefits to this project – first and foremost being the water quality improvements for Hodges Reservoir,” said Goldamer Herbon, a senior water resources specialist at the Water Authority. “Ancillary benefits include operational flexibility for regional supply benefits and preventing the accumulation of mercury, which can be harmful to people and wildlife that eat fish from the reservoir.”

The California State Department of Water Resources awarded the City of San Diego a $3.4 million grant funded by the San Diego Integrated Regional Water Management program to complete the oxygenation project, which began in February 2019.