Keeping SIO sea-watered
Posted by George J Janczyn on November 30, 2010
You might imagine that UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) in La Jolla is a major water user — seawater, that is — for its various aquariums and research units, but did you know the pier is the conduit for that water?
The nearly 1100-foot-long pier at Scripps was built in 1987-88 to replace an older pier that dated back to 1915. It not only provides for the launching for ocean-bound research boats and collection of data on ocean and weather conditions, but also is the drinking straw in the ocean for the seawater filtration, distribution, and discharge system that provides the various labs and aquariums with the seawater they need.
A housing at the end of the pier holds three vacuum-assisted pumps, along with a backup pump available on standby. The system can produce a flow of about 1200 gallons per minute, and generally produces about 800,000 gallons per day (although it is permitted for up to 1.25 million gpd).
A flume runs from the end of the pier to the shore conveying the water through a screen to trap large kelp and other debris. The water then goes into settling tanks and then through four high-speed sand filters. From there it is pumped up to several 15,000 gallon storage tanks and a 60,000 gallon tank on the hillside which provide a steady gravity-feed of water to the aquariums and lab facilities below. After the water flows through the various systems, it is returned to the ocean via several outfalls near the pier. Because the waters offshore are designated as the San Diego Marine Life Refuge, the discharges are regulated and monitored under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Program (NPDES) permit.
The high quality filtered seawater is a critical resource in numerous marine biology and oceanographic research and teaching activities at SIO. The Birch Aquarium, the Hubbs Hall Experimental Aquarium, Ritter Hall Experimental Aquarium, Hydraulics Laboratory, and even the nearby NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center all receive a constant flow of fresh seawater through the delivery system.
Behind the scenes is a variety of life support chillers, heat exchangers, piping, pumps, filtration systems, electrical equipment, and backup power systems. A crew of 8 provides 24/7 support for the seawater delivery facilities.
Thanks to Mario Aguilera, Assistant Director of Scripps Communications, and Jose Moret, Superintendent of Zone Maintenance Operations for giving me a tour of the facilities.