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Chula Vista fifth graders enjoy their first visit to the new Hydro Station educational facility. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

New Educational Hydro Station Project Opens in Chula Vista

The first Hydro Station in California opened August 15 in Chula Vista.

The interactive educational space is a joint partnership between the Sweetwater Authority, Otay Water District, and the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

The Hydro Station, at the Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility, features learning exhibits and hands-on activities to introduce fifth grade students to the ecological cycle of water, water conservation, water quality, and careers in the water industry.

More than 4,000 students are expected to visit the Hydro Station annually.

Making the world ‘a better place’

“The Hydro Station introduces our students to the world of work in the water industry and inspires them at an early age to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics,” said CVESD Superintendent Dr. Francisco Escobedo. “With this station, we expose students to careers that can change the trajectory of entire families, opening the door to high-wage careers that our students might not have thought were possible.

“The students also explore ways to make the world a better place through clean water, and water conservation,” added Escobedo.

Students drink in details about water conservation at the opening of the Hydro Station in Chula Vista. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Students drink in details about water conservation at the opening of the Hydro Station in Chula Vista. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

New generation encouraged to consider careers as water industry professionals

More than 2,800 people work in the water and wastewater sector at the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies. One-third of these industry professionals will be eligible for retirement in the next few years.

“It’s an opportunity for a new generation to join us in our mission to deliver safe and reliable water to hundreds and thousands of people in communities that rely on us as water professionals,” said Tish Berge, Sweetwater Authority general manager.

As part of the Hydro Station experience, students will have three dedicated days focused on career opportunities in Information and Communication Technologies, Clean Energy, and the Blue Economy. They will learn how their strengths, interests, and values may align with career options. Hands-on activities will also help them make connections to specific careers.

Hydro Station mission is about education and conservation

“I have served many years in the water industry, which has allowed me to experience the evolving industry climate firsthand,” said Mark Watton, Otay Water District general manager. “The high level of retirements, new technologies, and increased demand for safe drinking water all contribute to the availability of good, stable careers and employment.”

“We want to make sure that a rewarding career in the water and wastewater industry is within reach for as many local students as possible who are vocational or college bound, and the Hydro Station helps us do that,” he added.

Visitors to the new Hydro Station's grand opening mark the occasion with a selfie. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Visitors to the new Hydro Station’s grand opening mark the occasion with a selfie. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

The Hydro Station’s location is ideal 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.

A $28.6 million project to rehabilitate more than four miles of large-diameter pipeline between Lake Murray and Sweetwater Reservoir was completed in June 2018. Photo: Water Authority

Water Authority Adapts to Overheated U.S. Construction Costs

Construction costs have surged across the nation over the past year as prices for materials used in construction have risen. At the same time, contractors are struggling to meet project deadlines due to a shortage of skilled workers, construction trade industry publication Constructive Dive reported on March 18.

Those higher construction costs are impacting local agencies, including the San Diego County Water Authority. Agency staff briefed the Board of Directors’ Engineering and Operations Committee in mid-March on how those market changes are driving up costs of infrastructure and maintenance projects.

“The Water Authority will monitor market trends and adjust individual project budgets as required,” said Gary Bousquet, the Water Authority’s deputy director of engineering. “Our planning process includes prioritizing projects, and evaluating the timing or need and scope of projects. We will adjust our project cost estimates to meet changing market conditions.”

Labor shortage adds to increasing costs

A labor shortage in the construction industry is one of several factors increasing costs.

“While construction hiring remained very widespread through January [2019], industry employment gains nationally slowed in February—possibly an indication that the pool of qualified workers has dried up in many markets,” Ken Simonson, chief economist with the Associated General Contractors of America, said in a new report.

The report showed that construction employment declined by 1,300 jobs in the San Diego region from January 2018 to January 2019.

“There are many large-scale construction projects underway in Southern California, while at the same time, there is a shortage of skilled and unskilled labor, which means greater competition for those workers,” said Brent Fountain, a principal engineer with the Water Authority. “In addition, increasing prices for materials are impacting the costs for both maintenance and capital projects.”

Water Authority project bids from contractors in 2018 ranged from $200,000 to $6 million over the project costs estimated by the Water Authority, according to Fountain.

Contractors bid above estimates in 2018

: In 2018, the Water Authority received 2-to-5 bids for projects, and the bids were all well-above agency estimates. Graphic: Water Authority

In 2018, the Water Authority received 2-to-5 bids for projects, and the bids were all well-above agency estimates. Graphic: Water Authority

“We’ve received fewer bids at higher bid amounts from contractors for several projects in the past eight months,” he said. “The Water Authority generally had more bids and bid amounts closer to our project cost estimates, from 2014 through 2017.”

In previous years, bid amounts were typically closer to project cost estimates and sometimes the bids came in well below the estimates.

Contractors bid below estimates in prior years

From October 2014 through June 2017, the Water Authority received 3-to-7 bids for projects, and the bids were all below agency estimates. Graphic: Water Authority

From October 2014 through June 2017, the Water Authority received 3-to-7 bids for projects, and the bids were all below agency estimates. Graphic: Water Authority

Bousquet said the agency will monitor construction industry cost trends as it continues pioneering projects to serve the region.

“The Water Authority has made an array of innovative infrastructure investments over the past 25 years, including some of the largest projects in the history of the agency, to sustain the $231 billion regional economy,” said Bousquet. “We will continue to develop cost-effective projects to provide a safe and reliable wholesale water supply to San Diego residents.”