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January 20, 2004 > Water - A Precious Tri-City Resource

Water - A Precious Tri-City Resource

The Alameda County Water District (ACWD) Matures

TCV asked several people instrumental in the development of the Alameda Water District to participate in an informal discussion. Joining the meeting held Tuesday, December 30 at ACWD headquarters in Fremont was: Frank Borghi (Board Member 1962 - 1992), Craig Hill (ACWD Engineer for 32 years), Harry Brumbaugh (Board Member 1964 - 1990), Clark Redeker (Board Member 1964 - 1995), Allen Cuenca (ACWD Engineer 41 years) and Paul Piraino, General Manager. The following concludes excerpts from the conversation.

(Paul) During the tenure of the three former 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 brackish groundwater 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.

(Frank) Desalination is a very interesting field. My brother did his thesis at Cal on desalination in 1944 in regards to Santa Barbara. They put a plant in during the first drought (in 1977) and then took it down. Around 1990, there was a meeting in San Rafael regarding desalination. Jim Beard and I went up there. There were about 15 agencies discussing desalination. We then got started on it. That same group reconvened about two months ago and none of them have done anything. Our district moved ahead. It takes 10 - 12 years from the start of a project to completion.

(Clark) Our district quietly went ahead with no opposition. When they had this big meeting in San Rafael, the "Green" people objected because they were going to put brine into the bay. They were going to take Bay water and put the brine back in again. It says something about our district, its engineering and public relations with the people.

(Frank) One of the things stressed by the board and staff has been public service. This has always been one of the top priorities. We have always emphasized that throughout the years.

(Harry) The main thing for the ACWD currently is to maintain the quality of our service and anticipate growth. We have worked very hard to make sure ACWD has the resources and systems necessary, more than enough, when we needed them. A few things have been added such as the plant in Mission and desalination. I think the basic framework is set and with a little expansion, we will be able to deal with the future of this area.

(Allen) I see the district as proactive and visionary. As Paul noted, it is always seeking the latest technology, striving to be cost effective to the consumer and allow the growth of the area to be sustained. We have changed from the fast growth of the '70's to today when we have established treatment plants, location of reservoirs and the piping has been set in place. The challenge now is to maintain the high quality standards. I think the present board, management and employees will meet whatever challenges present themselves.

(Frank) I strongly feel the future depends on the management of the district. Everything is in place. Now, it is management's job to ensure the cooperation of the three cities so we can maintain the quality of service here. We have been able to accomplish this in the past because the board had been together for many years and worked well together. The chair was open for one year so no one thought they could control the district. We have had excellent staff people and that is very important to the district.

(Clark) The challenge, as has already been mentioned, is to maintain the quality and quantity of our water. There will not be any more dams built in California. We have our own "dam" [Niles Cone Groundwater Basin] right beneath us and we have protected it from all comers and there have been some interesting battles along the line. Other than the State Water Plan, we got our own supply in spite of the state and federal governments. Since the State Water Plan, there has been zilch! We have a certain entitlement and we get no more. The challenge to the district will be to have a good supply of water by recharging, desalination and whatever new things come along. As a retired chemist, I also think we will have to fight against unnecessary regulation. We need to keep the politicians and science separate. We have to have good water science and need to avoid politics from ruining our water. We have to be on guard for scare tactics used by politicians.

(Craig) I agree that we have grown up and met our growth requirements. We have state of the art (equipment) to meet our quality requirements. We need to protect our groundwater - stay vigilant and make sure it doesn't become contaminated. We use Alameda Creek to replenish the groundwater. We are going to need to manage the creek in a way that is compatible with fish. That will be a challenge for both ACWD and San Francisco Water District but we are working on that. Our distribution system will eventually get old and we need to be prepared for how we will replace our water mains and maintain service.

(Paul) I echo everything that has been said. The need to balance the competing demands on the district is a continuing challenge. Changing regulations demand constant adaptation. We have requirements that have not been in place before regarding the environment - trying to be a good neighbor in a regional sense. The fishery issues and others are related to this. We need to secure a reliable supply of water for our area in an statewide atmosphere that is not conducive to that end.

The state has been in gridlock regarding water policy for the last thirty years and has not adequately met the needs of the people of California. It has been the local agencies that have stepped up to the plate and figured out ways that they can get local control over their resources to meet customer needs. That will be an ongoing challenge. The water we get from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta isn't going to get any better for the foreseeable future and could get worse. We must continuously adapt to the quantity of the supply we are getting as well as the quality.

Changes in the San Francisco Water District and increased costs will present a challenge. Increasing costs will affect us, but less so than other agencies wholly reliant on San Francisco water, but we do derive about 30% of our supply from that source using it to blend with our 'hard' well water. In the late '60's we softened the well water through an ion exchange chemical process but, with area growth, the plant wasn't large enough to handle the volume. Hydraulic blending of 'hard' well water and 'soft' San Francisco water was seen as a way to achieve softer water and lessen the heavy chlorine taste of San Francisco water. We also blend the desalination ("permeate") water that has no minerals with ground water to create an excellent quality water with a good taste. Blending has improved the taste and is helping us to achieve a more uniform hardness of the water throughout the district.

(Clark) My roommate at Stanford was Harry Tracy. Years ago, he was in charge of water purification for San Francisco. In those days we had our water district elections in the spring when there was a large water runoff. San Francisco chlorinates their water heavily, which can cause taste complaints. I called Harry and said, 'I'm running again, can you knock the chlorine down a bit. And, son-of-a-gun, he did!'

(Paul) We continue to push the envelope to find solutions such as finding dry year storage. We now store our State Water Project water in Kern County when we have excess supply during wet years. Through exchange agreements, we can draw on that water when we need it to supply our customers' needs during drought years. We now have 70,000 acre feet of water in storage and will try to build it up to 150,000 acre feet to meet the future needs of this area. An acre foot of water is 325,000 gallons of water. The average use in our area is 45,000,000 gallons per day. An average family uses about 1/2 acre foot per year.

(Clark) The district predated the cities and that was good. As each city formed and looked at the services they would provide. Each looked at water and sewer and decided to leave it alone. The districts were doing a good job and there was enough on the plate for the cities without trying to take over something that was working well.

(Paul) We have been effective as a single purpose agency. Water is important enough to deserve that kind of attention and technical enough that it requires that kind of vigilance.

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