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April 2, 2008 > Water, the key to life (Part I)

Water, the key to life (Part I)

"When you drink the water, remember the spring."
Chinese Proverb

This is a two part series that will examine how the Tri-Cities receive water for domestic use and steps taken by Alameda County Water District (ACWD) to assure its quality and safety. Tri-City Voice recently met with ACWD General Manager Paul Piraino; Water Resources Planning Manager Eric Cartwright, P.E.; Operations Manager Walter Wadlow and Water Quality Manager Douglas Chin, P.E. to discuss ACWD operations.

For most of us, the above proverb may be a fleeting thought when feeling a bit parched without a handy source of this precious liquid, but usually the notion soon passes. After all, water is all around us through faucets, in bottles or packaged food and drink. In past years, water consciousness has waxed and waned based on winter rains, threat of drought and the ebb and flow through connections to supply sources. Just a few weeks ago, Bay Area citizens anxiously waited for reports of snowfall in the Sierra Mountains. For many, adequate snowfall heralds another year of plentiful water supplies from hundreds of miles away. Others are cautiously optimistic while waiting for final court decisions holding the key to water supplies and delivery from the Delta region.

Local water supplies rely heavily on Mother Nature. Rain and snow during winter months is captured in dams and reservoirs brought to the area for our use. Even advanced methods of desalination are copies of natural processes. A quote from filmographer Michael McClary simplifies the concept noting, "Irrigation of the land with seawater desalinated by fusion power is ancient. It's called rain."

Occasionally media attention is drawn to water supplies through sensational reporting of contamination or disaster. However, interest is soon diverted to other stories deemed "newsworthy." Although public interest may focus elsewhere, there are personnel who spend their working hours gathering, maintaining and guarding this precious and critical resource. In many cities, public works officials manage water supplies while in others, agencies specifically tasked with water resources are responsible. Tri-City (Fremont, Newark, Union City) water supply is the responsibility of the Alameda County Water District (ACWD). Challenges of supply, purity and safety are their constant and unwavering concern.

ACWD Discussion:

Cartwright: Many challenges face all water agencies including uncertain hydrology. Last year was a dry year and that impacted many water agencies throughout the state. This year started out dry as well raising concerns of a drought.

Another concern is a decision by the federal court on August 31, 2007 (U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger) to protect Delta and Longfin Smelt as endangered fish species. Delta pump operators were restricted and as a result, water delivery was reduced from the state water project. This is an interim order through September 2008. At that time there will be a new biological assessment which will govern operations of export facilities from then on. This has the potential of limiting water supplies from the Delta. At this time, the pumps are operating at 1500 cubic feet per second (cfs) instead of the usual 7,000 - 8,000 cfs. Reduced pumping has impacted ACWD since the beginning of the year. Pumps are the most easily controlled aspect of what might be harmful to the fish. Other stress factors such as toxins and habitat changes may also be impacting the smelt.

Piraino: There are measures that water agencies are considering to keep smelt away from the pumps. They will cost money and take time but in the next year, they may be implemented to reduce the impact of pump restrictions.

Cartwright: We are fortunate to have multiple sources of water including ground water and San Francisco (Hetch-Hetchy) water to get through short term shortages. Our storage capacity of 150,000 acre feet in Kern County is close to three years of district demands. At this time we have approximately 125,000 acre feet stored.

Piraino: ACWD is well prepared for water challenges due to its 90 year history that began with a huge overdraft of the groundwater basin. The first goal was to correct that problem using recharge areas, rubber dams to divert local supplies and import water as a San Francisco Hetch-Hetchy customer and State Water Project contractor. There has been some very good planning starting in the 50's and 60's. We are very opportunistic about taking the maximum advantage of our local supplies. We have ground water desalination in addition to ground water. Our groundwater is practically back to historic levels. It has helped that we are a separate agency which has a single focus.

End of Part I

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