By Sara M. Katz and Karen Snyder
Yes, fellow citizens, there is something that both major political parties agree on: the need for infrastructure investment to get the country’s water systems, highways and other major public facilities rebuilt in order to avoid major failures in the near future.
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Our politicians are not the only ones working to accomplish this. A growing number of water districts and companies are hard at work on major water supply and wastewater initiatives.
As the water industry celebrates Infrastructure Week from May 15 to 19, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that communities large and small across the country need $384 billion in investment through 2030 just for drinking water facilities. Add to this another $271 billion needed for wastewater infrastructure.
Katz & Associates has been privileged to work with two local government water initiatives that are not only paying dividends for San Diegans but also provide living examples of how prescient (and pre-panic!) planning and leadership can and should work in the future: the San Diego County Water Authority’s Emergency Storage Project and the City of San Diego’s Pure Water San Diego. Both faced unique challenges for their stakeholders, often in the face of political peril for leaders, yet were completed well in advance of any crisis such as an earthquake, drought, or other long-term outage.
San Diego’s Long-Term Vision
The water authority’s multi-billion dollar capital improvement program launched n 1989 represented a significant but very important investment in water reliability. A major component of the program was the Emergency Carryover and Storage Project, which is a system of new and expanded reservoirs, pipelines and other facilities that work together to store and move water around the county in the event of an interruption in imported water deliveries. It was made up of four major construction projects:
- The 318-foot-high Olivenhain Dam and 24,000 acre-foot reservoir
- The 11-mile-long San Vicente Pipeline
- A 1.25-mile-long pipeline, pump station and hydroelectric facility called the Lake Hodges Projects
- Raising the San Vicente Dam by 117 feet
The water authority remained committed to public outreach throughout the two-decade long endeavor, with community engagement activities including more than 250 speakers-bureau presentations, establishment of a community-based advisory group that met over an 18-month timeframe to provide valuable insights and input into the program, dozens and dozens of site tours, regional displays, project specific and programmatic materials, and extensive proactive media engagement.
This system will continue to enhance the reliability of our region’s water supplies for generations to come, protecting residents and businesses for up to six months from supply disruptions caused by natural disasters or the return of prolonged dry periods.
The City of San Diego has faced opposition in the past to developing a potable reuse project, primarily because of public perception and competing water resource initiatives. However, now, with the support of the mayor and city council, San Diego is moving forward with the Pure Water San Diego program, which will provide more than one-third of San Diego’s water supply locally by 2035 using water purification technology. The city is currently in the design phase for the infrastructure needed for this multi-billion dollar program, including pump stations, pipelines and new and expanded treatment facilities. With this program, San Diego is able to reduce its ocean wastewater discharges by more than fifty percent, while also delivering a safe new drinking water supply.
Pure Water San Diego features a comprehensive education and outreach program that includes hundreds of facility tours and community presentations, and a Pure Water working group of stakeholders from a wide variety of community interests. Support for adding purified water to the local drinking water supply has risen from 26 percent in 2004 to 73 percent in 2014, and it has stayed steady ever since.
It seems likely that the trailblazing achieved by these water experts will be followed and joined by other robust California infrastructure improvement campaigns.
Sara M. Katz is CEO and founder of Katz & Associates, one of the nation’s leading communication firms specializing in water issues for government agencies, including projects that integrate emerging technologies and practices. Karen Snyder is a vice president of the firm and leads its water practice.
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