San Lorenzo Valley Water District Presents Future Plans – Santa Cruz Sentinel

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BOULDER CREEK – Slowly but surely, the San Lorenzo Valley community is rebuilding itself after the CZU lightning complex burned down. Its water district is no exception.

The San Lorenzo Valley Water District lost all of its water intake infrastructure at the Lyon Water Treatment Plant at Boulder Creek, built in 1994 to treat surface water from numerous streams in Empire Grade Mountain. About 50% of the water stored at the plant was also lost. All 1,600 acres of the watershed were affected by the wildfire.

One of the smaller reservoirs in the San Lorenzo Valley Water District was damaged in the CZU lightning complex fire and has been offline ever since. A larger tank next to it was operational after a high pressure wash, but that little white tank suffered more damage and will require additional care, District Manager Rick Rogers said on Wednesday. (Melissa Hartman – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

“It’s an impact, so we’re bringing water from Ben Lomond when water would normally be produced here,” District Manager Rick Rogers said on Wednesday when he took local media on a tour. official from the region which still shows signs of burns. Earth.

Rogers said the loss of about 7 miles of aboveground high-density polyethylene pipe and damage to the three on-site water tanks cost the district $ 20 million.

“The pipe melted and burned when the fire went through,” Rogers said. “We worked with our consultants to follow the fire with heat maps… We were able to follow it almost hourly as it approached our facilities… This allowed us to close the processing plant in order to that no contamination has entered. “

Currently, the district supplements its surface water at Boulder Creek with well water. Rogers said he hopes to return surface water intake and storage to service within the next three years.

Infrastructure options

So far, the district has spent about $ 250,000 on what it calls a “buildability survey”. This partnership with San Mateo-based Freyer & Laureta Inc. will provide insight into the best option for new water intake infrastructure for the water district.

“(We) will see what is the best kind of engineering today (is) to put the pipe back in place,” Rogers said. “Over the next few months, we hope to find construction techniques to either bury the pipeline or replace it with a non-flammable material to harden it against future fires. “

The fire burns through the Water District polyethylene piping during the CZU Lightning Complex fire, leaving a molten black exterior in its wake. (Courtesy of the San Lorenzo Valley Hydraulic District)

Once decisions are made from the investigation, there will be an estimated six-month effort to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to secure approval for the new infrastructure. Rogers and his team expect this to go off without a hitch, with FEMA being closely involved since the start of the fire. The process is slow, but staff members make the most of it by using the time to write plans and specifications to launch a bid.

“Part of that, whether FEMA (approves it) or not, the district will go ahead and make repairs,” Rogers said, adding that a low-interest loan had been taken out to cover. initial construction costs.

The Water District is confident that 75% of the costs, or $ 15 million, will be covered by the federal government, while the district will need to provide 25%, or about $ 5 million. Rogers said the district plans to introduce a fire surcharge of about $ 5 per month per connection to help raise funds over the next five years.

Currently, the Proposal 218 process to give clients the opportunity to review or protest the idea is underway. After the required 45 days, this will be followed by a public hearing and the presumed adoption of the surcharge.

“So far (the reviews) have been positive, but still with some type of rate increase there are people who want more information and have concerns. There are a lot of low income people and with COVID there are a lot of people who are still not back in the workforce, so this is a concern and we understand that for sure, ”a Rogers said.

The last time the water intake was built, it was a 10-year process, Rogers said. The topography of the area required the installation to be carried out by helicopters and crews.

“Basically you’re crossing Ben Lomond Mountain, and it’s no different than a hike in Big Basin State Park. It’s a narrow trail, springs everywhere, stream crossings, rugged redwood forests… the only access is to walk, ”Rogers said. “We transported the materials and dropped into the forests, then the teams came in every morning and went out every night. “

Current operations

Today, at Empire Grade headquarters, only one of the district’s water filtration systems and one of its tanks – electrically washed, sanitized and thoroughly tested before being brought back from the fire. – actively host the district’s water supply.

Due at least in part to the drought in California, there is only enough water at the Lyon water treatment plant to run a filter machine. Another machine, pictured, soaks itself during its downtime so it’s clean and ready for the busiest days. (Melissa Hartman – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

This is unusual, Rogers admitted, as he said each filter system can handle 350 gallons of water per minute and it looks like there is “water screaming through” inside the. plant.

The plant’s Windows-based iFIX engineering software automation system can be accessed remotely by employees to monitor facilities and process data, while the District Environmental Laboratories Accreditation Program Certified Laboratory is used in person to test 15-20 samples per week for coliform bacteria. and residual chlorine.

“We have the ability to test these samples 24/7… we have as fast a turnaround time as possible, so once we get those negative samples we get our people back the water. “said Rogers. “It’s huge to restore the drinking water service.”

Refute recontamination

The speed provided by the lab will come in handy again this fire season, which worries chemists such as water treatment and system supervisor Nate Gillespie may mean recontamination of water affected last year. .

“Water distribution networks are very dynamic systems. You can’t always predict flow rates so we are seeing recontamination in some areas, ”said Gillespie, adding the Paradise fire area as an example of where prolonged contamination has been a problem.

Between August and October 2020, “Do not drink, do not boil” advisories were in place throughout the valley for various periods when volatile organic compound (VOC) tests revealed benzene in the water in the Riverside district. Grove. A remarkable sample had detected 20 parts per billion while the maximum level of contaminants for the state is one part per billion.

Trees lining the road to the water plant show signs of the trauma the area suffered last year. (Melissa Hartman – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

“The SLV teams rinsed the main pipes to remove any contamination. After the lines were flushed, we retested and then retested until we had no doubt that there was no contamination, ”said Gillespie.

Although neither benzene nor other VOCs have been detected since mid-September, the San Lorenzo Valley River Basin District has implemented a long-term VOC monitoring program where all regular sites are tested. monthly at least until December 2022, Gillespie said.

In addition to regular testing, hazardous material operations have already taken place, as EPA bins have been introduced to remove potential contaminants, such as batteries, from the riparian corridor. Additionally, according to Gillespie, scientists have learned that connections left open to homes burned down last year may be a potential source of contamination; these connections have since been closed to ensure this does not happen.

“We have been very transparent throughout this process. Whenever we found contamination, we immediately informed customers. Our data doesn’t lie, ”said Gillespie. “It’s our job to serve clean water and we all take it very seriously. “


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