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January 6, 2004 > Water - A Precious Tri-City Resource

Water - A Precious Tri-City Resource

The Early Years of the Alameda County Water District (ACWD)

TCV asked several people, instrumental in the early years of the Alameda Water District to participate in an informal discussion of their recollections. Joining the discussion held Tuesday, December 30 at ACWD headquarters in Fremont was: Frank Borghi (Board Member 1962 - 1994), Craig Hill (ACWD Engineer for 32 years), Harry Brumbaugh (Board Member 1964 - 1990), Clark Redeker (Board Member 1964 - 1997), Allen Cuenca (ACWD Engineer 31 years) and Paul Piraino, General Manager. The following are excerpts from the conversation.

(Frank) My family moved to Whipple Road in 1902 from Sunol. They worked in agriculture and dairy. I was born in 1924. At that time, they could pump water through an 8" pipe 25 feet down. There was a principal at the Decoto Elementary School named Runckel who was very interested in water in the area. He took a very active part here in the formation of the ACWD. There were a number of companies that were attempting to take water out the area. One, to Oakland, had a pumping plant near Hesperian Boulevard. The Holly sugar mill was also a large user of water. In fact, when they were processing from late August to the first of the year, many wells in the Alvarado and Decoto area would drop noticeably.

By 1939, we put in a well in the Newark area and went down 325 feet and had to cement the first 100 feet to stop salt water intrusion. At that time, the district started to receive some releases [of water] from the City of San Francisco's Calaveras Dam.

(Harry) A lot of the water battles came just before I ran for the board. We were still trying to get water into our underground. We had other battles too. Pollution along Alameda Creek was one of the reasons I ran for the board. We had so much foam from detergent dumped upriver - Almador Valley - 15 feet deep and rolling on the road. When it rained and flooded their holding ponds, raw sewage would empty into the creek. After threatened litigation they finally built a sewage line and stopped using the creek.

We also had a fight with the quarry which would pump groundwater out just as fast as we could pump it in! Attorney, Morris Hyman (founder of Fremont Bank) took the case to the Supreme Court of California and won the right of the ACWD to control the level of underground water to the "state of nature" level. This was a landmark decision. The quarry could not afford to compensate the ACWD for the water they were pumping out,.

(Clark) Another complicating factor was that when the quarry pumped the water out, we had salt water intrusion from the Bay. The quarry people were pumping water out that we were buying from the state faster than we could put it in!

(Frank) Niles Sand and Gravel were the principal abuser. We filed suit and the judge awarded us $315,000!
A "pump tax" was only passed when Clark joined the board. There was a 2-2 deadlock and the tiebreaking vote was held by a board member who was off getting married. We finally got it passed.

When Zone 7 was approved, Governor Brown and I broke ground on the Del Valle Dam. The water storage created really spurred the growth in the area.

(Paul) Zone 7 is a wholesale water agency providing state water to the area.

(Harry) Although some people fail to understand that water is a precious resource, farmers always did. Frank and I always thought of water that way since we grew up on a farm and you are always concerned with irrigation.

(Clark) Our "recharge" of underground water was being compromised by the dams built by San Francisco upriver. As the water level would go down, salt water would intrude.

(Craig) We can tell how much water we receive since all the major "legs" of Alameda Creek have gauging stations. San Francisco keeps records of releases from their dam and we get records of state water releases. Without state water released in the summer, Alameda Creek would probably be dry. We use that water to percolate underground and keep our water table stable.

(Frank) During the drought of 1977, we had voluntary rationing and refused mandatory rationing. We were saving about 38% that way. The state wanted mandatory rationing which would have cost the district about $100,000 just to supervise it. Our General Manager, Matt Whitfield, wanted us to go on mandatory rationing. We sent him to a meeting of thirty agencies in San Rafael to tell them that we would not go to mandatory rationing. Matt said that was the hardest thing he ever did as General Manager - telling them of our refusal.

In 1987, the same situation occurred. Governor Jerry Brown had appointed Mr.Warren as Secretary of Water Resources. I got a call from him one evening saying our district was not cooperating and I told him that he should run his affairs in Sacramento and we would run ours in ACWD...Good night!

(Harry) As I remember it, with voluntary rationing, we were doing a lot better than many others who were under compulsory. They still wanted us to go under mandatory for political reasons.

(Frank) And Sacramento didn't even have water meters at the time!

(Paul) We did have a pricing structure that increased the cost of water used over a set amount and also allowed people to "bank" water if they were under this amount.

In 1962, ACWD became the first water district to contract with the state to receive water through the state aqueduct. At that time, that water was used exclusively to recharge the groundwater basin. That water could then be pumped out and treated for drinking water. In 1964, we also contracted with San Francisco for additional water. This water was "potable" water and could be put directly into our drinking water system. Those two sources were what the district used until the 1970's when we built our first water surface treatment plant to take state water and treat it for the distribution system. Craig was the project engineer for that plant.

(Craig) Once we had the water supply, to meet the rapid growth in the area, we still needed to be able to treat the water, store the water and distribute the water. With bond issues for reservoirs and wells were being brought up, the board developed a policy of "pay as you go" where development paid for itself. As ranches became subdivisions, developers were required to extend water mains on public streets at their cost. When finished and tested, they were dedicated back to the district. A per unit dwelling "connection charge" funded the cost of water treatment facilities and reservoirs. At the time, the cost was $100 per house. It is a lot more now. This was to pay for the capital facilities necessary for growth.

(Harry) One thing we have always had in mind was the recreational use of our facilities. The creek was one and working with East Bay Regional Parks was another. Quarry Lakes is the latest. This has always been one of our priorities - to share these facilities. We could have gone into the recreation business, but felt it better to work with others.

(Paul) During the tenure of the three board members here, starting in the '60's, the sources of supply expanded considerably. We started with just ground water, then added state water project water and San Francisco water. Technology was applied in this district for surface water treatment in the '70's. Then in the early 90's, we built another treatment plant that was one of the first to use ozone as a method of disinfection in the Bay Area. These three gentlemen were also the "seed" for our desalination plant. We began discussing this as a concept in the 90's. The district has not only been focused on assuring an adequate supply, but also improving the quality and making sure our customers are receiving the benefit of the most advanced technology.

In the next issue of TCV, we will continue the transcript of this discussion. The group concludes its discussion with thoughts about the development of the desalination plant located in Newark and future challenges to the ACWD.

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