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Naturalists Paige DeCino (left) and Karen Merrill survey South Lake Reservoir. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Volunteers Offer Birds Eye View at South Lake Reservoir

For decades, it was a source of drinking water for the San Marcos area. Today, the South Lake Reservoir has new life as a local wildlife habitat.

South Lake was built with an earthen dam and provided drinking water to the Lake San Marcos area, most of downtown San Marcos, and the Coronado Hills area. Updates to potable water treatment had detrimental effects on the lake ecology, so the Vallecitos Water District stopped using the lake as a drinking water source in 1984, although it remained an emergency water supply for another decade.

South Lake Reservoir is home to freshwater fish and abundant aquatic plant life, waterfowl, quail, doves, deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, bobcats, and coyotes. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

South Lake Reservoir is home to freshwater fish and abundant aquatic plant life, waterfowl, quail, doves, deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, bobcats, and coyotes. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Now, South Lake provides a thriving ecosystem within and around the facility. The lake is home to freshwater fish and abundant aquatic plant life. Waterfowl such as coots, gallinules, grebes, various species of ducks, and cormorants frequent the lake throughout the year. The property is filled with quail, doves, deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, bobcats, and coyotes.

Volunteers help identify habitat and wildlife at South Lake

Vallecitos Water District staff recently surveyed the area to look for animal tracks and other signs of wildlife, and to catalog plant and animal species.

Certified California naturalists Paige DeCino and Karen Merrill from Preserve Calavera assisted Vallecitos public information representative Alicia Yerman, who is also a certified naturalist. The team spent three days exploring the lake and the 1.4-mile trail. Merrill and DeCino host the volunteer UC Naturalist certification program. The program is currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wildlife cameras at South Lake Reservoir captured this visiting bobcat at night. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Wildlife cameras at South Lake Reservoir captured this visiting bobcat at night. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Two wildlife cameras were set up at South Lake to capture wildlife activity over a two-week period. Lisa Urabe, a University of California trained Master Gardener and Vallecitos public information representative, asked the Buena Vista Audubon Society to conduct a bird survey. The BVAS volunteers identified 36 species in mid-February and created a YouTube video showcasing some of the species.

BVAS volunteers were enthusiastic about surveying the birds in an area set aside as wildlife habitat. With increased habitat fragmentation, BVAS hopes the area will remain primarily an area for wildlife.

Buena Vista Audubon Society volunteers including Karen Merrill andd Paig DeCino identified 36 species in mid-February and created a YouTube video showcasing some of the species seen. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Buena Vista Audubon Society volunteers including Karen Merrill andd Paige DeCino identified 36 species in mid-February and created a YouTube video showing some of species. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

“What you have at South Lake is a gem of the healthy functioning habitat— flora, fauna, and it is just a complete picture of what we hope our open spaces and natural lands to be,” said Karen Merrill. “It is something we should treasure now and into the future. It is one of a kind here on coastal San Diego County.”

Vallecitos employees take pride in the lake and its surrounding ecosystem and strive to keep the habitat intact for generations to come.

Vallecitos Water District staff including maintenance operator Marcelino Sanchez help maintain the lake and habitat. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Vallecitos Water District staff, including water distribution operator Marcelino Sanchez, help maintain the lake and habitat. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Firefighting helicopters can pull water from the lake

In addition to its value as local wildlife habitat, South Lake is available for fire suppression. Firefighting helicopters can pull water from the lake during wildfire events. The lake may be used as part of the City of San Marcos’ park system in the future.

Water quality within South Lake is monitored daily by water distribution operators, and the condition of the dam’s integrity is recorded weekly. Recently, an environmentally-sound ultrasonic technology made by LG Sonic was placed on the lake to reduce algae blooms and to improve water quality.

Welcome to the Board: Craig Elitharp, Vallecitos Water District

Craig Elitharp was seated on the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors on December 1, 2020, representing the Vallecitos Water District. Director Elitharp serves on the Legislation and Public Outreach and Water Planning and Environmental committees.

Craig Elitharp-San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors-

Welcome to the Board: Craig Elitharp, Vallecitos Water District

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights new members of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 36-member Board of Directors. Each of the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies appoints at least one representative to the Board, which sets policy for the Water Authority.

Welcome to the Board: Craig Elitharp, Vallecitos Water District

Who: Craig Elitharp was seated on the Board of Directors on December 1, 2020, representing the Vallecitos Water District. Director Elitharp serves on the Legislation and Public Outreach and Water Planning and Environmental committees; the Colorado River Work Group; and is an alternate on the SANDAG Regional Planning Committee for the Water Authority.

Background/Education: Bachelor of Science, Forest Engineering, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University (1979). Retired in 2014 from the Rancho California Water District in Temecula. Elitharp and his wife Diana have been residents of San Marcos since 1988.

Water Industry Affiliations:
Vallecitos Water District Board Director, Division 3
California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA) Board Director
Encina Wastewater Authority Board Director (2015-2018)
US Navy Public Works Center Utilities Department, San Diego (1986-1990), Civil Engineer
Rancho California Water District (1990-2014), Civil Engineer, Operations Manager, and Director of Operations & Maintenance (Retired 2014)
Kennedy/Jenks Consultants (2014-2018), Senior Civil Engineer

Q & A

Q: How did you get interested in water issues?

A: I first became exposed to the world of California water in 1986 when I took a job with the US Navy Public Works Center in San Diego. As a civil engineer there, I managed water and wastewater utilities for six Navy bases in the San Diego area. From there I went to work for the Rancho California Water District in 1990, working first as a civil engineer, then Operations Manager and eventually retiring there in 2014 as the Director of Operations and Maintenance. It’s been a fascinating and extremely rewarding career. As an elected official since 2014, I’ve sought to use my water industry experience for the benefit of the Vallecitos Water District ratepayers and now as a Water Authority board member, for all of the residents of San Diego County as well.

Q: What are your priorities or interests as a Board member?

A: I’m a strong advocate for fiscal sustainability and transparency, ratepayer equity and environmental stewardship. In addition, I believe in hiring and retaining highly qualified staff and empowering and challenging them to reach their full potential.

Q: Besides maintaining safe and reliable water supplies, what do you see as the top three issues facing the San Diego region?

A: I see climate change resiliency, infrastructure investment, and housing and utilities affordability as particularly important issues facing the San Diego region.

Q: What do you like to do when you are not working?

A: I enjoy spending time with my grandsons Nathaniel and Kieran and my granddaughter Kaia. I enjoy running on the trails and in the neighborhoods around Cal State San Marcos as well as running an occasional local half-marathon race. I also enjoy sampling the outstanding craft beers of North County.

The Water Authority’s Board of Directors typically meets on the fourth Thursday of each month. The Board invites the public to attend its monthly meetings and to comment on agenda items or other matters before the Board. For meeting times, agendas and documents, go to www.sdcwa.org/board-directors.

Vallecitos Water District Recognized for Algae Control

The Vallecitos Water District won an Excellence in Innovation and Resilience Award with environmentally-friendly algae control technology. Known for its sustainable approach to water treatment, the award-winning utility chose to control algal blooms with LG Sonic technology. The award recognizes efforts in the innovative application of technology to the wastewater field and was handed by California Association of Sanitation Agencies.

Vallecitos Water District Valve Maintenance Program Ensures Reliable Service

Just as owners perform routine maintenance to keep their cars running smoothly, water systems need regular maintenance to provide reliable service. The Vallecitos Water District’s Valve Maintenance Program ensures these vital components in its water distribution remain in good working condition throughout the District.

Regular valve maintenance prevents unanticipated shutdowns of water service to Vallecitos Water District customers. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Vallecitos Water District Valve Maintenance Program Ensures Reliable Service

Just as owners perform routine maintenance to keep their cars running smoothly, water systems need regular maintenance to provide reliable service. The Vallecitos Water District’s Valve Maintenance Program ensures these vital components in its water distribution remain in good working condition throughout the District. Valves left without proper maintenance for long periods can become a serious problem, especially in an emergency water shutdown.

VWD’s Construction Department manages the program. Two-person teams use maps to familiarize themselves with the location of the 4,959 valves in the system, not including fire hydrants and fire services. Critical valves serve hospitals and businesses. Between 300 and 500 valves are serviced monthly, following American Water Works Association standards.

Small but vital parts monitored

Construction worker Justin Shutt explains valves are isolation and shutoff point for water mains along streets.

“If we have a main break, where a main ruptures, we need to be able to isolate those certain sections without taking too many people out of water” by shutting the valves, said Shutt.

Valve Maintenance Technician John Truppa runs the valve maintenance program. He trains crew members how to use the valve exerciser machine, read maps properly, and respond to customer calls. Customer service is a priority. When a customer reports a water line leak in their home, the valve maintenance crew helps by shutting off the water at the meter.

The Vallecitos Water District’s geographic information system provides a written record of valve location, condition, maintenance, and inspection records for each valve serviced. Reliable recordkeeping is vital to ensure all valves receive regular maintenance and are replaced before coming to the end of their service life to reduce the percentage of failures and inoperable valves. The District monitors valve life span to replace them prior to failure. Areas prone to water main breaks and valves on mains serving large groups of customers get added attention.

Taking turns

 Between 300 and 500 valves are serviced monthly by two person teams. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Between 300 and 500 valves are serviced monthly by two-person teams. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Valve maintenance involves performing a prescribed number of turns to “exercise” or test the valve. Turns are calculated in part by the size of the main. Larger transmission water mains require more valve turns, both up and down. Turning speed is also important. If valves are closed too quickly, it creates “water hammer,” or sudden pressure forcing water down the line, potentially triggering water main breaks. You may have heard a water hammer in your house when you shut off a household valve suddenly.

Ounce of prevention

The District's geographic information system (GIS) provides a written record of valve location, condition, maintenance, and inspection records for each valve serviced. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

The Vallecitos Water District’s geographic information system provides a written record of valve location, condition, maintenance, and inspection records for each valve serviced. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Regular valve maintenance prevents unanticipated shutdowns of water service to Vallecitos customers.

“We want to take as few people out of water at a time as we possibly can,” said Shutt. “We keep up on the upgrades and make sure the valves are working the way they’re supposed to.”

The proactive approach by the Vallecitos Water District ensures the reliable delivery of quality water to its customers while ensuring all systems are working properly.

Water-deliveries-Hauck Mesa-Storage Reservoir-

New Reservoir to Protect Local Drinking Water Deliveries in North County

A major construction project to improve drinking water supply reliability in North San Diego County will start in February after the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today approved an $11.4 million contract for the work to Pacific Hydrotech Corporation of Perris, Calif.

The Hauck Mesa Storage Reservoir project includes demolition of an abandoned steel tank, building a 2.1 million-gallon storage reservoir connected to the Valley Center Pipeline, and construction of an isolation vault and an underground flow control facility. The project is expected to be completed by winter 2022.

Infrastructure improvements ensure water delivery

Strategic infrastructure improvements by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies are part of the regional effort to ensure continued delivery of water to support the region’s $245 billion economy and the quality of life for 3.3 million residents. The Water Authority just completed a $30 million series of upgrades on the historic First Aqueduct in North County to ensure these facilities continue to serve the region for many more decades.

“These upgrades are investments in our future,” said Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher. “Ever-changing conditions mean the work is complex and challenging, but continued vigilance helps ensure that we can meet our region’s water needs both today and for decades to come.”

As part of the asset management program, it is critical to actively replace and repair the Water Authority’s assets, which include pipes, valves, facilities, equipment and other infrastructure.

Operational flexibility

The new Hauck Mesa Storage Reservoir will provide operational flexibility, enhanced system reliability for the day-to-day operations of the aqueduct system, and help ensure water deliveries can be maintained even if power supplies are interrupted.

The Water Authority will continue to work closely with the Valley Center community, Valley Center Municipal Water District, and nearby homeowners to minimize short-term construction impacts.

For more information on the Hauck Mesa Storage Reservoir project, go to www.sdcwa.org/hauck-mesa-storage-reservoir.

New Reservoir to Protect Local Drinking Water Deliveries in North County

January 28, 2021 – A major construction project to improve drinking water supply reliability in North County will start in February after the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today approved an $11.4 million contract for the work to Pacific Hydrotech Corporation of Perris, Calif.

WaterSmart Contractor Incentive Program Benefits San Elijo HOA

A major landscape makeover is helping a San Diego County neighborhood save money during these uncertain economic times. The WaterSmart Contractor Incentive Program helps qualified landscape contractors as well as large homeowners associations, save money and improve water-use efficiency in large landscapes by retrofitting irrigation devices.

Brian Idekler of O'Connell Landscape Maintenance installs a flow control sensor for the San Elijo HOA. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

WaterSmart Contractor Incentive Program Benefits San Elijo HOA

A major landscape makeover is helping a San Diego County neighborhood save money during these uncertain economic times. The WaterSmart Contractor Incentive Program helps qualified landscape contractors as well as large homeowners associations, save money and improve water-use efficiency in large landscapes by retrofitting irrigation devices.

The Water Authority and the Vallecitos Water District recently worked with the San Elijo Community Association and O’Connell Landscape Maintenance to install water-efficient devices throughout its entire association property. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

The San Diego County Water Authority and the Vallecitos Water District recently worked with the San Elijo Community Association and O’Connell Landscape Maintenance to install water-efficient devices throughout its entire association property. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

The San Diego County Water Authority and the Vallecitos Water District recently worked with the San Elijo Community Association and O’Connell Landscape Maintenance to install water-efficient devices throughout its entire association property, including 2,500 stations and 50 controllers. In addition, rebates allowed O’Connell Landscape to convert spray irrigation and rotor irrigation to drip irrigation, and add flow sensors.

Van Dyke Landscape Architects and its team of certified landscape irrigation auditors assessed the irrigation system in order to make recommendations for the system upgrades. Van Dyke performed initial irrigation audits to determine what types of irrigation upgrades would benefit San Elijo’s terrain and soil types best.

WaterSmart Incentive Program

Recommendations lead to significant improvements

Through its report, the landscape architects recommended areas of opportunity for the San Elijo HOA to save its homeowners money and water long-term. Through the WSCIP, the project earned $24,000 in rebates. The amount of water savings from weather-based controllers can range from 10% to 30% of actual water applied, and another 20% to 40% water savings by changing to a pressure-regulated point source drip system.

O’Connell Landscape Maintenance performed the irrigation work for the San Elijo HOA. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

O’Connell Landscape Maintenance performed the irrigation work for the San Elijo HOA. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

“The smart irrigation controllers help send an alarm when there is a break, and the controller will stop the master valve and stop the leak,” said Fabian Alejo, account manager for O’Connell Landscape Maintenance. “The smart controller makes it easier for us to monitor flow, water usage, and leaks.”

Alejo said that the software that comes with the controller allows crews to get alarms in real time.

“Getting the alarms in real time pinpoints exactly the controller and the station number where we have a high water or no flow reading, allowing us to make repairs immediately where water is being wasted,” said Alejo.

Van Dyke landscape architect Nick Concra managed the rebate process.

“The rebate program is incredible,” said Concra. “HOAs using this program can save a lot of money, and a lot more than they think.”

Participants in the WaterSmart Contractor Incentive program call it “priceless.” Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Yale Hooper, principal landscape architect with Van Dyke, said the teamwork among the participants with the Water Authority and Vallecitos Water District makes the program so successful.

“From our perspective as landscape architects, these programs are priceless,” said Hooper. “If I were a contractor or HOA, these are ‘must do’ programs.”