Water and sewer districts on the Coastside are looking to ensure services go uninterrupted during any kind of outage or emergency, including PG&E’s public safety power shut-offs.
Governing boards are evaluating the generators the districts already have, replacing old ones, planning for ways to help those on wells, and discussing how to maintain lines of communication when the internet goes down or cell service is spotty.
Although PG&E’s planned shut-offs may be finished for the season, lines can go down and cause outages during winter storms.
“Having to live through a (planned) power outage, it was a wake-up call and got us thinking of what alternatives we should do with the infrastructure we have on the Coastside,” said Mary Rogren, Coastside County Water District’s general manager.”
The CCWD board approved $200,000 to buy generators for the Denniston Treatment Plant, and Rogren estimates it will cost another $150,000 to $200,000 for installation. The district is also considering installing generators at the Crystal Springs Pump Station.
“PG&E is putting these burdens on other utilities, businesses, and ultimately it could go into our rates,” Rogren said.
The Montara Water Sanitary District was already looking at its generators before this fall’s power shut-offs. The board voted to replace a failed generator at the last meeting. That action was not related to the PG&E outages, General Manager Clemens Heldmaier said.
“What we’re looking at is, do we need to replace those generators at a higher frequency because now we’re understanding they will run more often or be used more often,” he said.
The MWSD is also looking at where to find additional backup diesel fuel if needed, and Heldmaier said the water fill station would be available during every power outage for use by people who have wells.
“Our system is built and designed so we can pretty much do this forever,” he said. But Heldmaier also noted there could be some water supply concerns if an outage lasted more than a week. “As long as we still have access to diesel fuel, our system is really designed for very long power outages,” he said.
At the Sewer Authority Mid-coastside, interim General Manager Kishen Prathivadi said staff was working around the clock to monitor the generators at the main plant and three pump stations to ensure there was enough fuel.
Without refueling, the main plant generator could last four to five days and the smaller generators at the pump stations could last 32 to 44 hours. As long as there’s fuel, the generators can keep running.
“We own three pump stations, but we manage a whole lot of them,” Prathivadi said. “... We also make sure that the generators are all topped up and it’s all working fine. We do our generator checks every month and run it to make sure everything is fine, irrespective of if there is an outage.”
Granada Community Services District officials said the field crew at SAM monitors the pump stations and treatment plant, so there is little for staff to do during outages.
Although the agencies were able to keep the systems running, MWSD and CCWD experienced a common hindrance during PG&E’s public safety power shut-offs. Managers expressed frustration caused by inconsistent information and the loss of cell and internet services.
The GCSD administrative office was closed during the outages because there was no cell or internet service. SAM, however, maintained internet and cell connections throughout the power shut-offs.
“We were more occupied trying to get our internet up and running than worrying about our water sources,” Heldmaier said. “I think that was the biggest impact. Something I want to point out (is) these large organizations that really don’t seem to have a grasp on what’s happening on the ground on the local level.”
At CCWD, Rogren said the loss of internet meant they couldn’t read the information from the plants and tanks, so it had to be done manually. The district is working to get an AT&T fiber connection in the next few weeks to assure a backup.
Rogren and Heldmaier both want better information from PG&E.
“There was a lack of communication to the utilities and businesses involved in health and safety,” Rogren said.
This article has been updated to include information from Granada Community Services District staff.