When it’s time to inspect facilities, such as water tanks, or survey the topography of its properties, the Otay Water District now turns to technology it has embraced in the past year: drones. The water agency, which serves more than 225,000 customers in eastern and southern San Diego County, uses two camera-equipped drones to get a bird’s-eye view of its vast and mostly remote sites and facilities, which include 40 potable water reservoirs, more than 20 pump stations and a treatment plant.
The Otay Water District recently began using drones to assist district personnel with water-facility inspections. The district, which distributes water to more than 225,000 customers in southeastern San Diego County, is using the drones primarily to survey its reservoirs, pump stations and a recycled water treatment plant, according to a news release. “The District’s use of drone technology is a reflection of its continued process improvement philosophy to conduct efficient maintenance operations, improve the safety of its workers, and ultimately deliver greater value to its customers,” the release stated.
Spring Valley, Calif. – At its Jan. 2, 2019 meeting, the Otay Water District Board of Directors elected new Board officers to lead the District’s Board for 2019. The Board elected board member Mitch Thompson, who represents division 2, as president. The Board also elected board member Mark Robak, serving division 5, as vice president.
Thompson’s election as president follows one year of Board leadership under past president Tim Smith. In 2018, Thompson served as vice president of the Board. He has served on the District’s Board since May 2012. Thompson will serve as president through January 2020 when officer elections will again occur.
Sweetwater Authority and Otay Water District have forged a new partnership with the Chula Vista Elementary School District to introduce fifth grade students to opportunities and issues in the water and wastewater industry – including compelling career options.
The “Hydro Station” program is designed to address a significant shortage of skilled workers entering these career fields. Water agencies are facing a wave of retirements by Baby Boomer employees and a lack of skilled workers ready to replace them. Professionals surveyed for Water & Wastes Digest’s 2018 State of the Industry Report cited workforce development as one of the most important issues for 2019. Utilities nationwide are developing new ways of reaching students to encourage their participation in the industry.
Locally, more than 2,800 people work in the water and wastewater sector at the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. The Chula Vista-based Sweetwater Authority, for example, anticipates a staffing crunch on the horizon. In the next five years, 50 percent of the agency’s workforce will be eligible for retirement.
Agencies restructuring educational outreach programs for 2019
While Sweetwater and Otay have conducted educational outreach programs since the 1990s, both agencies have experienced cutbacks due to budget constraints and navigated changes in science education standards.
Valuing the importance of education and working with local students, the two agencies are restructuring their educational outreach programs and focusing on partnerships with schools and community groups to reinvent and modernize the programs. The program design fits in with recent recommendations from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program on renewing the water workforce and creating a broader pool of prospective workers.
“We are super excited about our partnership with the Chula Vista Elementary School District and Otay Water District in service to children and their families in our service area,” said Sweetwater Authority General Manager Tish Berge. “This program is the first of its kind in our region, and we look forward to making an impact by educating our youth about the wide variety of careers that we have to offer in the water industry.”
Program launches in Spring 2019 with 5,000 fifth grade students
The initial “Hydro Station” pilot program will launch in Spring 2019 with approximately 5,000 fifth grade students from the Chula Vista Elementary School District participating in the program annually.
Students will have three dedicated days focused on career opportunities in Information and Communication Technologies, Clean Energy, and the Blue Economy. Students will learn how their strengths, interests, and values may align with career options, and hands-on activities will help them make connections to specific careers.
The new Hydro Station is at the Sweetwater Authority’s Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility – an ideal location to educate students on how their strengths, interests, and values can connect with careers in the water industry while presenting opportunities to solve real-world problems through the Engineering Design Process. It will also serve to educate children and their families, as well as the community, on the thoughtful use of water resources.
The program is funded in part by a grant from the Hans and Margaret Doe Charitable Trust. Funds from the trust cover production and distribution costs of educational materials, including field trip journals students will use during their experience at the Hydro Station.
Spring Valley, Calif. – On Oct. 11, the Otay Water District executed a successful bond sale that is expected to close on or about Nov. 1. The water revenue bond will fund $28 million of District’s capital projects during the next three years and will refinance $6.9 million of the District’s 1996 Variable Rate Demand Certificates of Participation (COPs) to a fixed rate of interest. By refinancing its 1996 Variable Rate COPs to a fixed rate, the District has eliminated the risk of increasing costs for customers due to rising interest rates.
Spring Valley, Calif. – At its Oct. 3 meeting, the Otay Water District Board approved an overall average sewer rate decrease of seven percent for 2019. The rate decrease will take effect with sewer service billed on or after January 1, 2019, and may apply to sewer service used as early as the beginning of December 2018.
Spring Valley, CA – Today, Board member of the Otay Water District Gary Croucher, officially will begin to serve his two-year term as Vice Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors. At its Sept. 27 meeting, the Water Authority Board unanimously elected Croucher as incoming Vice Chair, along with Jim Madaffer from the City of San Diego as incoming Chair and Christy Guerin from Olivenhain Municipal Water District as incoming Secretary.
The transformation of Cuyamaca College’s trailblazing Water and Wastewater Technology Program into the Center for Water Studies is all but complete.
Among the premier water and wastewater training facilities in California, the Center for Water Studies relocated in late August to a renovated complex complete with new classrooms, a water quality analysis laboratory and a workshop for back flow, cross-connection controls, and related skills-based courses. The complex sits next to a state-of-the-art field operations skills yard that opened in January, with an above-ground water distribution system and an underground wastewater collection system. The facility aims to simulate the challenges that students will face on the job in advanced water and wastewater facilities.
“With the completion of these new facilities, our Center for Water Studies is now the flagship water and wastewater technology program in the entire California Community Colleges’ system, and one of the premier programs of its kind available anywhere in the western United States,” said Don Jones, the veteran water industry professional overseeing the transition of Cuyamaca College’s Water and Wastewater Technology program into the Center for Water Studies for the past decade.
The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District’s Proposition V construction bond provided $1.2 million in funding to reconstruct the building. Funds from the college’s National Science Foundation’s “California WaterWorks: Building the People Pipeline” grant helped pay for tools and equipment to foster a learn-by-doing environment. The Field Operations Skills Yard was built through approximately $200,000 from a California Community Colleges Strong Workforce grant, more than $70,000 from the National Science Foundation grant, and approximately $130,000 in pipe fittings, valves, meters and other equipment donated by water industry manufacturers and distributors.
Producing the next generation of water professionals
The Center for Water Studies is already making a difference in a region where water industry professionals are needed to replace the more than 1,200 industry employees who are at or nearing retirement age. The Center has been reaching out to high school students in STEM fields, transitioning military, women, and other traditionally underrepresented populations to explore water and wastewater technology careers. The Center collaborates with Grossmont Union High School District science instructors and water industry experts to develop specialized lesson plans related to water and wastewater management skills.
In January 2019, the Center for Water Studies will host the second annual Women in Water: Exploring Career Pathways symposium. Recently, nine Center for Water Studies students were among 17 selected to participate in the 2018-2019 San Diego Region Water and Wastewater Internships program supported by the Water Authority, its member agencies, and community college water and wastewater technology programs.
The Center’s National Science Foundation grant, which totals almost $900,000, will cover the cost of curriculum development among the participating agencies and educators.
Water industry professionals supportive of program’s goals
The Center for Water Studies evolved through discussions with the Cuyamaca College Water and Wastewater Technology Program’s Industry Advisory Committee, which comprises water industry professionals from the Water Authority and many of its member agencies. Support from local water agencies has been strong. The Otay Water District’s Board of Directors presented Cuyamaca College President Julianna Barnes with a $5,000 check for the new center in August.
An official dedication ceremony for the new complex is tentatively set for January.
As part of the countywide WaterSmart Landscape Contest, the Otay Water District has selected water conservation class graduate and rebate recipient Rosalba Ponce of Chula Vista as the 2018 winner of its “Best in District” award.
Each year, participating water agencies in San Diego County honor residential customers who showcase the best water-efficient features in their yards. This year’s contest committee from Otay determined that Ponce’s landscape best achieved overall attractiveness, a well thought-out design, efficient irrigation methods, and appropriate plant selection and maintenance.
Water-efficient Mediterranean floral garden replaces thirsty front lawn
Prior to converting her yard, Ponce participated in two of the San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies’ water conservation programs — the WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program series and the Sustainable Landscapes Program. In 2016, she attended the Water Authority’s free landscape makeover classes, and as a result hired a professional landscaper to help her replace her thirsty front lawn with a Mediterranean floral garden that was both welcoming and water-efficient.
“Upon retiring, I thought the four-class course would be perfect for me,” said Ponce. “At first, it was very difficult for me because I had never really stepped out into the garden in my whole life. I didn’t know what a valve or filters were. I didn’t know anything about what kind of soil I had. This course gave me the tools to learn about turf removal and opened my eyes to the joy of remodeling my yard.”
With water savings in mind, she also installed a drip irrigation system, two rain barrels, and a detention area to collect rainwater.
Regional incentives help offset landscaping costs
Ponce also submitted her application for the Sustainable Landscapes Program, and in less than nine months, she had completed the full transformation of her front and back yards, receiving an incentive of $1.75 per square foot for replacing approximately 1,200 square feet of turf with sustainable landscaping. (Editor’s Note: As of July 2018, sustainable landscaping incentives in San Diego County are available through the Landscape Transformation Program at www.socalwatersmart.com.)
Her residential landscape now serves as a living example of what conservation education can help create. Ponce’s efforts could have potentially led to a decrease in her overall water use by an average of up to 38 percent.
“Ms. Ponce’s landscape transformation demonstrates the importance of outdoor water-use efficiency as a means of helping to meet the future water needs of our service area and our region as a whole,” said Mitch Thompson, Otay Water District Board member and Water Conservation Garden Joint Powers Authority committee member. “Water-saving approaches to landscaping create healthy, natural yards that offer both economic and environmental benefits.”
At its July 11, 2018 meeting, the Otay Water District’s Board of Directors honored Ponce for exemplifying water-use efficiency in her garden. She was awarded a certificate of recognition, a gift certificate to a local nursery, and other promotional items. She is also being recognized in the district’s newsletter and other outreach materials.
“When I entered the contest, it was another way for me to share my story with other people and motivate them to do something that’s going to be good for our world,” said Ponce.
For more information about the landscape contest, go to www.landscapecontest.com.