GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

San Diego’s water supply vs. the mayor and SDG&E’s Sunrise Powerlink project

Posted by George J Janczyn on September 22, 2011

After experiencing a wet winter, most of California’s reservoirs are brimming and many people are relaxing their guard about water use — including Mayor Sanders. The mayor decided that San Diego’s reservoirs are in such good shape that the city can afford to draw down its reserves so that it won’t have to buy as much imported water from the County Water Authority which has scheduled a rate increase for January 2012. That decision allowed him to announce that the city will not impose a pass-through increase to the city’s customers this year.

Of course all the mayor has done is defer the pass-through increase until the following year (and that will be compounded by a likely further rate increase from the County Water Authority at that time). City residents should expect a doozy of an increase in 2013.

Whether the reservoir drawdown is a wise decision in the overall scheme of things remains to be seen.

Meanwhile SDG&E’s Sunrise Powerlink project has also been helping to draw down San Diego’s drinking water reserves.

The original plan, according to documents filed by SDG&E, was to use mostly reclaimed water for its construction needs. SDG&E’s 2010 Final Project Modification Report says:

“…the majority of the water for construction of the Sunrise Powerlink can be supplied by reclaimed water purveyors in San Diego County, which would minimize impacts to local potable water supply. Using reclaimed water is consistent with MMCRP Measure S‐3B directing SDG&E to use reclaimed water where possible.”

“SDG&E has initiated the application process for obtaining reclaimed water from the City of San Diego…SDG&E’s current plan for water use in San Diego County is to utilize the reclaimed water from the City of San Diego as the primary source…”

But there seems to be no reclaimed water being used at all.

Earlier this year, John Pilch (President of the San Carlos Area Council) received complaints from residents about water tanker trucks that were hooking up to street fire hydrants in the San Diego neighborhood of San Carlos. He learned that the water was being taken for SDG&E Powerlink construction activities 30 miles away in the local mountains. Pilch began asking questions of city officials and SDG&E and soon attracted the attention of the San Diego U-T which published this story last May.

Pilch also sent this letter to Mayor Sanders but he never got an official response.

Now SDG&E’s operation has expanded with construction of a water “filling station” behind the shopping center at the northeast corner of Lake Murray Blvd and Navajo Road in San Carlos. Two raised water tanks connected to a fire hydrant at the rear of the complex are being used to fill up water tanker trucks that arrive at regular intervals.

The water filling station behind the shopping center.

The hydrant feeding both towers

The water withdrawals from the other fire hydrants in the neighborhood are continuing as well. Two hydrants on Lake Murray Blvd. are presently in use, at Lake Baca and Mono Lake Drives.

It’s been going on for months and neighborhood residents are concerned about the water usage and damage to the street (the people I spoke with didn’t want me to use their names). During a one-hour period I observed tanker trucks roll in every ten minutes or so at the “filling station” alone. John Pilch says that one of the drivers told him the trucks typically carry about 6,000 gallons. The project documentation estimates that 300,000 gallons per day of San Diego’s water is being taken for the Powerlink project. So far it’s all been drinking water.

The Sunrise Powerlink newsletter published in Oct 2010 boasted that SDG&E is “Preserving a Precious Resource” and quotes SDG&E’s Alan Colton (Environmental Services Manager) saying “The protection of our region’s water resources is a priority for SDG&E. We would like to use reclaimed water for all construction work along the 117 mile route of the project.”

San Diego City District 7 Councilmember Marti Emerald’s office has been trying to learn what went wrong.

Emerald’s Policy Analyst Mary Ann Wallace provided me with a copy of an April 7 email message from the Public Utilities Department (PUD) that stated “SDG&E has been offered recycled water, from our recycled system, and raw untreated water, from City owned reservoirs/pipelines for their Sunrise Powerlink project. However, both water sources require filling stations to be designed, permitted/approved as appropriate, and constructed. To date, SDG&E has decided to truck potable water from the City to rural SD County. (emphasis mine)

The PUD email from Jesus Meda, Deputy Director of Systems Operations went into some detail about the options available to SDG&E:

Recycled Water Service

The Public Utilities Recycled Water Section has been working with SDG&E and their consultants (Nolte Engineering and Geosyntec), since January 2010, on the Sunrise Powerlink Recycled Water Fill Station proposed at the City’s South Bay Reclamation Plant. Nolte Engineering has completed the design plans for the Recycled Water Fill Station to the satisfaction of the Public Utilities Department. As of April 2011, SDG&E has the following outstanding items to complete prior to constructing the Recycled Water Fill Station:

• Engineering Report approval from California Department of Public Health for the distribution and use of recycled water.
• Grading and Building Permit along with environmental clearance from the City of San Diego Development Services Department.
• Right of Entry Permit to use the City Facilities from City of San Diego Real Estate Assets Department.

In addition, SDG&E must also receive Regional Water Quality Control Board approval, as the construction sites where the recycled water would be applied are not covered by the City’s Master Reclamation Permits. We do not yet have a schedule from SDG&E for these outstanding activities.

Raw Untreated Water Service

Public Utilities Water Operations staff had identified some potential points of raw water delivery for SDG&E, including Barrett and Morena Reservoirs and the El Capitan Pipeline. Public Utilities staff met with representatives from SDG&E, in December 2010, at both reservoir sites (Barrett and Morena). SDG&E expressed interest in purchasing raw water from Barrett Reservoir, since that location would have limited impact on the public, more space for their water system installation and better turn around areas for their water trucks. However, SDG&E has not provided the City with the requested design plan submittals and water delivery schedule for review and approval. These items are needed prior to construction of the required raw water filling stations and subsequent raw water service. We do not yet have a schedule from SDG&E for these outstanding activities.

It would appear that SDG&E simply balked at having to comply with the regulatory process for using reclaimed or raw water, and decided that it was under no obligation to have a filling station “designed, permitted/approved as appropriate” if said station was located on private property (the shopping center) and taking drinking water as opposed to reclaimed or raw.

According to Laura McDonald, Director, Public Affairs and Project Communications at SDG&E, they have a construction water permit for taking city water from the fire hydrants, but as for the “filling station” water tank towers at the shopping center, she said “that was the first I’ve heard of that.” She promised to look into it and let me know. I’ll post an update here if something interesting comes out of that.

The trucks have been driving about 30 miles east on I-8 to Japatul Valley Road, then on Bell Bluff Truck Trail to an area where SDG&E is building the Suncrest Substation.

Interestingly, the anti-fluoridation group Citizens for Safe Drinking Water is also located on Bell Bluff Truck Trail.

Empty tanker truck exits Bell Bluff Truck Trail to Japatul Valley Road on its way back to San Carlos

The residents at that intersection don't seem to be pleased.


[There’s a new development. Click here for an Oct 17 followup.]


One Response to “San Diego’s water supply vs. the mayor and SDG&E’s Sunrise Powerlink project”

  1. Wow, those trucks weigh roughly 60,000 lbs. when loaded, very heavy
    for residential streets.

    In my view, trucking this much load over suburban streets is likely to
    end up costing a large sum of money for early re-paving of the streets.

    Most cars weigh around 3,500 lbs., so it’s easy to see how these trucks will add quite a bit of extra wear to the streets of San Diego over time. Will the city be reimbursed for this expense?

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