Pipeline relining is an efficient technique that extends the lifespan of pipes while minimizing costs and impacts to nearby communities. Photo: Water Authority

Innovative Pipeline 5 Relining Completed

San Diego County Water Authority crews completed relining a segment of Pipeline 5 in Fallbrook and San Marcos in late July, reaching a milestone in a strategic, multi-decade pipeline relining program. The 2.3-mile segment of Pipeline 5 was relined with new steel liners that are planned to last for more than 75 years.

The proactive pipeline relining program is a crucial part of asset management efforts that improve the reliability of San Diego County’s water supplies.

30-year pipeline relining program

Since the relining program began in 1991, nearly 47 miles of pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipe have been rehabilitated. This constitutes more than half of the total PCCP in the Water Authority system. The remaining 35 miles are expected to be rehabilitated by 2027.

The Pipeline 5 project was conducted in eight segments to minimize impacts to the nearby communities of Fallbrook and San Marcos.

Proactive measures to protect infrastructure

Pipeline relining is an efficient technique used on long stretches of pipelines. It involves inserting new steel liners into the existing pipes. The new liners can extend the lifespan of the pipe by several decades.

“Relining our existing pipes is quicker and more cost-effective than excavating, removing and replacing an entire pipeline,” said Gary Olvera, senior construction manager at the Water Authority. “In partnership with our member agencies, the Water Authority has developed an efficient and proactive plan to ensure continued water supply reliability for the entire region.”

New steel liners can extend the lifespan of a pipe by several decades. Photo: Water Authority

New steel liners can extend the lifespan of a pipe by several decades. Photo: Water Authority

Innovative technique to minimize impacts

To access Pipeline 5, crews excavated dirt to create eight 25-foot by 60-foot access portals spaced roughly 525 to 2,500 feet apart. During construction, crews eliminated two of the originally planned portals, helping save more than $217,000. Most of the work was then performed underground, inside the pipe.

Once the new liner was installed, the joints were welded together. Then, each new steel liner was coated with a cement mortar lining. Finally, the portals were backfilled, the pipeline was disinfected, and the pipe was put back into service.

A welder works inside the pipe to connect the new joints. Photo: Water Authority

A welder works inside the pipe to connect the new joints. Photo: Water Authority

Maintaining regional water supply reliability

Large-diameter pipelines operated by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies extend approximately 310 miles to convey water throughout San Diego County.

Approximately 82 miles of the pipelines are pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipes. These types of pipes were installed between the early 1960s and late 1980s and some are nearing the end of their service life.

By relining the pipes ahead of time or conducting timely repairs with the latest technology, the Water Authority and its member agencies avoid pipeline failures and improve the reliability of future water supplies.

Limited rainfall means avocado grower John Burr must use innovative farming methods. Photo: Water Authority

San Diego’s Farmer of the Year Taps Every Drop

Growing water-intensive crops like avocados in San Diego County is no small feat. Producing avocados requires the use of innovative farming methods to supply the trees with enough water.

It’s the use of innovative farming methods that earned John Burr the title of San Diego County’s Farmer of the Year – an honor he recently celebrated on KUSI-TV with Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer as part of the agency’s Brought to You by Water outreach and education program.

Innovative farming methods

Over the past few months, the Water Authority partnered with local agriculture industry leaders like the San Diego County Farm Bureau to highlight the importance of safe and reliable water supplies for more than 5,500 local farms that are part of the county’s $4.8 billion agriculture industry.

Local farmers like Burr are invaluable in growing the agricultural bounty that sustains 3.3 million residents and the region’s quality of life.

Found in everything from tacos to smoothies to toast, avocados have become a staple in California cuisine and, with only about 10 inches of annual rainfall in the San Diego region, it takes innovation and technology to grow the popular fruit.

Technology saves water

For decades, Burr has been perfecting the operations on his Escondido farm, using state-of-the-art technology like the California Irrigation Management Information System. Two different satellite systems allow him to regulate irrigation by zones to determine precise water amounts to prevent using too much or too little water on his trees.

Satellites collect data, which Burr then analyzes with spreadsheets to determine how many gallons of water each tree requires. Every bit of data collected, from water usage to atmospheric conditions to soil type, allows Burr and his team to streamline their operations to be even more water-efficient.

“In San Diego County, we have to get the most out of our crops with the least amount of water,” said Burr, who irrigates his farm with water from the City of Escondido. “When the weather varies with changing seasons or fluctuating weather patterns, providing the right amount of water at the right time is paramount to using water efficiently. These technologies provide the information and tools that allow us to do that consistently, and ensure our crops grow successfully.”

Efficient land use conserves water

Those who see Burr’s farm may also notice another difference from the typical avocado farm, which is that his groves are designed for high-density planting.

“A typical avocado grove can have about 100 trees, but ours have about 400 in the same area of land. This cuts our water usage in half,” he said.

Each tree is also limited in height to prevent water loss through transpiration. This is especially important in a region like San Diego County, where temperatures can rise quickly on summer days.

Cal Poly Graduate Invents Sensor To Monitor Water Usage On Your Phone

California beat its drought this year, but from that seven-year drought came a new device, engineered by a Cal Poly graduate. The sensor, called Flume, could be the next step in water conservation from your couch. Each American uses about 88 gallons of water at home each day, according to the EPA. That same report shows on average, a family spends $1,000 on water every year. “You literally just take [the device], put it on the side of the meter, run some water, and just like that you’re calibrated,” said Eric Adler, co-founder and CEO of Flume, Inc., while demonstrating the device.

Alexander Schultz, Otay Water District geographic information systems technician, operates a drone in front of a district water storage tank. Photo: Otay Water District

Drones Offer Water Agencies Cost, Safety Benefits

Water agencies across San Diego County are saving time and money while improving employee safety with drones.

Industry analysts say drone use by water agencies worldwide is growing. The Helix Water District, Otay Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority have embraced the technology, using drones to inspect and monitor facilities, and to map and survey inaccessible areas.

Helix used a drone in February to check rooftop air vents on a water storage tank in El Cajon, rather than send employees high in the sky to do it. The agency determined it was too risky for employees – even with safety equipment – and too costly to have staff inspect the vents outside the 120-foot-high Fletcher Hills Combined Tank.

“We continually look for ways to utilize technologies where appropriate to minimize facility down time and to keep staff safe,” said Carlos Lugo, general manager at Helix. “Drone technology is proving to be a useful and cost-efficient way to survey and keep the district’s facilities properly maintained.”

Drones provide a safe and cost-effective alternative for inspecting the condition of storage tank vents without placing employees at risk or taking the storage tank offline. Photo: Helix Water District

Drones provide a safe and cost-effective alternative for inspecting the condition of storage tank vents without placing employees at risk or taking the storage tank offline. Photo: Helix Water District

Helix uses drones to inspect interior roof supports of its water storage tanks. The supports are especially vulnerable to corrosion because they are constantly exposed to humidity and heat.

Drone image of a roof bracket inspection. Photo: Helix Water District

Drone image of a roof bracket inspection. Photo: Helix Water District

Inspecting the storage tank roof supports requires moving 30-foot-high scaffolding from one support to the next, a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. To cut down that time, Helix used a drone to get high-resolution images of the supports. The drone images showed which ones needed repair without moving the scaffolding to each support.

A drone helps reduce the need to move scaffolding to each bracket during inspections. Photo: Helix Water District

A drone helps reduce the need to move scaffolding to each bracket during inspections. Photo: Helix Water District

“Using drones for this type of inspection work is a simple, elegant and safe solution,” said Jim Tomasulo, Helix’s director of engineering. “We anticipate using drones for this and other purposes.”

Drone inspections of reservoirs, treatment plant

The Otay Water District also is finding drones useful to save money and improve employee safety.

After a two-year study and evaluation period, the district is now using two camera-equipped drones to assist with preliminary inspections of its water facilities in eastern and southern San Diego County, including 40 potable water reservoirs, four recycled water reservoirs, 20 pump stations and a recycled water treatment plant.

Drones Reduce Risk

Countywide, the Water Authority uses drones to monitor rights of way and to survey inaccessible landscapes.

When a drone was used to get images and video of steep terrain on the Second Aqueduct west of Interstate 15 and south of the San Luis Rey River, the images were 10 times higher resolution than stock aerial images. Using the drone also kept staff from being exposed to potentially dangerous conditions.

The Water Authority is also exploring using drones for future surveys and potentially at water transportation, treatment, and storage facilities, where cutting-edge technology is used to save ratepayers money.

Drones are helping the Water Authority monitor rights of way, particularly in areas of rugged terrain.

But the potential of drone use is not limited to visual photography of elevated water tanks and surveying remote areas.  Water quality monitoring is another potential application.

Water agencies can use drones with infrared cameras “to monitor water areas remotely at higher spatial resolution than ever before, at low cost and at any time,” Michal Mazur, with Drone Powered Solutions, told in a recent article about the advances in drone use.

Water Resources Engineer Sami Sweis holds the Nautilus in his right hand and a foam ball in his left hand that the high-tech device is placed in before it is inserted into a water pipeline to scan for potential leaks. Photo: Water Authority

High-Tech Tools Help Detect Possible Pipeline Problems

It’s a whole new ballgame for the San Diego County Water Authority when it comes to finding leaks in major pipelines with cutting-edge technology.

One new tech tool deployed for the first time in February actually looks like a tennis ball that floats through water-filled pipelines scanning for potential trouble.

Of course, the new device is much more complex inside than a tennis ball – in fact, the Nautilus is among the most advanced tools of its kind in the world.  It not only detects defects that are invisible to the human eye, it does so without requiring pipes to be drained, which saves a significant amount of water and disruption to customers.

Innovation Leader

The Nautilus is just the latest component of the Water Authority’s cutting-edge Asset Management Program that has been adopting and developing innovative tools for more than two decades. In fact, the Water Authority has been recognized by the American Water Works Association as a leader in the water industry for its focus on asset condition assessment, risk management, proactive pipeline replacement, and use of cutting-edge technology that saves ratepayers money.

“These high-tech tools are cost-effective and fit perfectly with our proactive approach to managing our infrastructure, including 310 miles of large diameter pipelines and 1,400 pipeline structures,” said Nathan Faber, an operations and maintenance manager with the Water Authority. “Our mission is to find potential failures in the system in advance, rather than react after a failure.”

‘Listening’ for leaks

The Nautilus uses acoustic feedback to detect leaks or abnormalities in active pipelines without causing any disruption to water service or supply, Faber said. About the size of a tennis ball, the Nautilus is placed inside a larger, sterilized foam ball, to float through operating pipelines.

For the First Aqueduct scan, 26 sensors, called synchronizers, were installed on various structures on the outside of the pipeline. Those sensors relayed information to the Nautilus as it floated between checkpoints. No leaks were discovered in the tested portions of the pipeline.

Digital Resolution

A scan from the LIDAR device shows precise and highly-accurate digital measurements that pinpoint pipeline problems. Photo: Water Authority

A scan from the LIDAR device shows precise and highly-accurate digital measurements that pinpoint pipeline problems. Photo: Water Authority

Leveraging new technology to gather data and pinpoint pipeline problems saves water and money.

“Responding or reacting after failures can cost up to six times the cost of proactive repairs,” Faber said.

He pointed to a recent pipeline repair project in La Mesa, where a Light Detection and Ranging device, or LIDAR, was used inside a pipe to provide highly-accurate digital measurements.

“The LIDAR took 1,600 measurements in five seconds,” Faber said. “The high-resolution images showed stressed pipe and verified cracking issues that allowed crews to make an efficient, proactive repair.”


The Water Authority is increasing its commitment to innovation by hosting technology-focused forums and looking for new tools to help operate and maintain the region's water infrastructure. Photo: Water Authority

Agency Embraces Innovation at Technology Showcase

San Diego, Calif. – Welcome to the future.

That’s the message from the San Diego County Water Authority, which is developing and deploying cutting-edge techniques to maintain its 310 miles of giant pipes that provide water for 3.3 million residents across the region.

“This is all about assessing the condition of our pipelines through the most advanced technology at our disposal and performing repairs before age-related defects become an unforeseen issue,” said Martin Coghill, a senior water resources specialist for the Water Authority.

Coghill spoke before dozens of water industry officials and residents on hand for a Condition Assessment Technology Showcase during the Water Authority Board of Directors’ Engineering and Operations Committee in late August. The showcase included a review of the latest technologies to protect the region’s vital water infrastructure.

The show-and-tell included a 360-degree imaging system Coghill and his team recently developed to capture up-close views of the interior of pipelines too steep for crews to enter safely. Three-dimensional, virtual reality goggles were available for visitors to experience views recorded by the new imaging system.

A week earlier, the Water Authority hosted a technological show-and-tell for businesses and others interested in advancing the tools necessary to maintain and operate major water delivery systems. The outreach efforts were part of the agency’s expanding initiative to identify new technologies – or new uses for existing technology – to benefit the region’s water ratepayers.

Besides developing its own advanced tools, the Water Authority recently launched an online forum to solicit additional innovative concepts from entrepreneurs and members of the public.

Innovation technology takes center stage

One of the key areas in which the Water Authority has embraced innovation is maintenance of its large-scale pipeline system. Inspections with advanced technologies typically are conducted after the mid-point of a pipe’s projected lifespan, meaning some 60 miles of reinforced concrete pipe will need to be inspected over the next nine years. Visual inspections occur every 10 to 15 years.

Some of the advanced technology used in the asset management program was pioneered by the oil and gas industry, with the Water Authority and other agencies adapting and improving it for use in the water world.

“The Water Authority really is in a leadership role in trying new technologies for cost savings and efficiency, and some of these have been brought to us by private sector,” Water Authority General Manager Maureen Stapleton said during the August showcase. “However, a lot of what has been on show has been developed by our own staff…. I can’t tell you how talented our staff is in this area.”

Added Stapleton: “A lot of this can be scaled down to retail agency size, so it can be transferred to member agencies and so those agencies can make repairs without pulling pipes out and disrupting communities.”