Member Spotlight: ACWA Members Face Multiple Power Shutoffs in October – Nov. 2019

  • by Caroline Minasian
  • Nov 15, 2019
  • Newsletters

Cucamonga Valley Water District’s potable water production facility that includes potable water storage, wells, a pump station and a backup generator.

October was filled with extreme fire and high-wind weather conditions that spurred multiple power outages throughout California. The outages were not the “few-hours-by-candlelight” kind but critical, multi-day events that disrupted communities, public health and safety, and utility infrastructure. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a State of Emergency on Oct. 27 due to the extreme conditions and multiple Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events left over a million customers within the state without power. 

ACWA’s member agencies strived to provide water and wastewater services during the power outages, which required constant coordination and messaging with their customers. 

Calaveras County Water District (CCWD) experienced four PSPS events in October and had most of its service areas shut down by Pacific Gas and Electric for multiple days. CCWD released multiple notifications that reminded customers to conserve water to help lessen the load on backup generators to reduce the chance of failures at key facilities.

The district faced this fear when its water treatment plant in Copperopolis, serving thousands of people, experienced a backup generator failure. Once the ability to treat water is gone, there is a limited amount of time before the community’s water supply for drinking and fire protection runs out. The district quickly altered its communications from “please conserve water during power outages” to “only use water for critical health and safety needs” and thankfully their customers stepped up. 

“People responded in a big way and water use dropped dramatically, which provided the district with extra hours to obtain a new backup generator,” said Joel Metzger, CCWD External Affairs Manager.

district staff handled a very difficult scenario and were able to continue water and wastewater services without any disruptions in large part because Damon Wyckoff, CCWD Director of Operations, and his staff members prepared a PSPS Emergency Action Plan before any PSPS events occurred in Calaveras County. The district’s calculated cost of one PSPS event was more than $80,000. 

Similarly, Sonoma Water was faced with multiple PSPS events and faced the Kincade fire. 

“That was a double whammy for us because our headquarters were evacuated so we had to relocate the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to Rohnert Park, which meant we were operating our SCADA system and rerouting our phones and emails remotely,” said Brad Sherwood, Community and Government Affairs Manager. 

City of Santa Cruz Water experienced two PSPS events in October and they were able to successfully fill their tanks to maximize storage and use backup generation for their impacted facilities. Luckily, there was no loss of service and their longest event was around 40 hours.

“The real concern is what goes beyond 48 hours because we are located in an isolated county so extended fuel could become an issue,” said Chris Coburn, Deputy Director/Operations Manager. Santa Cruz Water estimates that each PSPS event in October cost roughly $25,000 in fuel alone. 

Solano Irrigation District (SID) tackled two PSPS events with one lasting five days. SID has 17 water systems in the rural part of the county and 13 without backup generation. Customers with pools were able to use pool water to flush their toilets but many customers were left without that ability. SID sent out multiple alerts to inform customers about water fill stations.

“In one of our systems water is lifted three times before it gets to treatment and then two more times to get to 25 customers. There would need to be six different generators brought in for that system which is enormously expensive,” said Cary Keaton, SID General Manager. The district is planning to invite customers to join working groups to coordinate solutions for future PSPS events. 

Cucamonga Valley Water District’s foothill region was effected by shutoffs for almost 40 hours without any interruption to water services. The district planned ahead and made provisions in September of 2018 including the ability to transfer between smaller generators for controls and larger generators for full-scale operation during longer PSPS events. 

The challenge for all agencies is the accuracy of notifications from their investor-owned utilities for de- and re-energization. Agencies would rather turn on their generators a couple hours before de-energization because it lessens the chance of surging, which can damage equipment. Staff have also been working overtime during events but planning for three days versus a week would be very different.

Despite the numerous challenges encountered, the amount of collaboration and coordination that has occurred with customers, staff working overtime, neighboring agencies, stakeholders and emergency services is testament to how ACWA member agencies are preparing and succeeding during unprecedented conditions.

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