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January 6, 2010 > Water, water... is it everywhere?

Water, water... is it everywhere?

Wadlow takes the reins

As an almost unconscious act, consumers ask for and receive the essence of life - water - on demand many times each day. Abundance or scarcity of this vital compound controls how and where we live. Although the average area resident may take it for granted that water will always flow from a faucet or pipeline, others are charged with the responsibility that this will indeed occur. In the Tri-City area, the venerable Alameda County Water District (ACWD) has been meeting the challenges of water distribution since its inception in 1914.

ACWD was formed due to a threat of fresh water depletion by growth in surrounding communities. In response, control of this resource and conservation efforts coupled with a need to acquire alternative sources besides those indigenous to the area have created a relatively stable supply for its customers even when faced with extended drought conditions. Careful management of this valuable resource is not an accident and neither is the delivery of safe, clean water when and where needed.

Last month, Paul Piraino retired as General Manager of ACWD. Walt Wadlow who served as Operations and Maintenance Manager since November 2007 assumed responsibility for the organization's day-to-day operations. TCV spoke with both to discuss past and future challenges and accomplishments.

TCV: What are your thoughts as you leave ACWD?

Piraino: The thing that impresses me the most about this agency that is almost 100 years old [it will be 100 in 2014] is how iterative it is. Going back to the beginning of the district in 1914, the story is really quite heroic in some ways. One guy, Christian Runckel, stood up against vested interests to get legislation passed and create the first water district in the state in this area. Ever since that time, each successive generation of management has stood on the shoulders of the prior generation to progress with additional sources of supply. Originally they were intent on preserving groundwater and in the 60s looked for additional sources of supply to accommodate growth in the area. In the 70s and 80s as growth continued and technology advanced, we were able to create much greater reliability of water supply. This was due to the ability to build on the original planning of the water district.

Desalination and the expansion of Quarry Lakes maximized use of our groundwater basin. Purchase of additional storage at Semi Tropic Groundwater Basin in Kern County is essential to maintaining an adequate supply of water for our customers. This was a fortuitous decision especially in light of the current issues that restrict the flow of Delta water to this area. This is a continuation of an 'instinctual sense' of looking at what is best for reliability of water supply.

I did not start many of these things, but have had the opportunity to bring them forward and see their completion. We are also being environmentally sensitive of fish and other issues to preserve and protect Alameda Creek. ACWD has an excellent AAA rating from Standard and Poor's on its long term debt which is not large and we have closed outstanding issues with Livermore/Amador Valley. I am leaving a fairly stable district; we have not had to institute rationing over the last three successive dry years. We have the advantage of multiple sources of supply and the ability to be flexible.

TCV: As the incoming general manager, how do you view the district?

Wadlow: As I look down the road, I see two themes. One is stewardship which addresses what is already in place. The diverse water portfolio supported by ratepayers has put us in an enviable position. The hydrologic impacts of the dry years are not over despite the recent rain. We depend on not only on rain that falls locally but the snowpack in the Sierra which feed Hetch Hetchy and the State Water Project.

In addition to the challenges to the hydrology, we are also seeing restrictions on our ability to take our supply of water. Most recently these have shown up as restrictions of how much water can be pumped out of the Delta. In one sense, there is a responsibility to maintain a sound water portfolio and financial condition. The second part of the theme is 'adaptation.' This is the response to new challenges and changing circumstances. Primary among those is the challenge the state as a whole is faced with as population grows and infrastructure that has not kept up with that growth. This has put more and more pressure on existing water supplies.

We will need to invest more time and resources. This is the number one challenge for the agency. This is similar to what the agency has done since its inception in 1914; find a new way to adapt. In the past it might have been the challenge of another area seeking to export the water supply or the need to expand the distribution system in this area for an expanding population. Now the challenge is to secure and adapt to increasing pressure on existing supplies. This includes not only the population of the service area but to encourage the fisheries on Alameda Creek. This is a continuing cycle of maintaining what has been built and adapting to new challenges. That has been the history of the agency and will continue to be our approach.

TCV: How will ACWD meet the need for additional water sources?

Piraino: There is a 'disconnect' of many in the Bay Area who think that all the water of the Delta (California Water Project) goes to Los Angeles. Much of the Bay Area is dependent in some way on water coming from the Delta. Creativity to these problems will be necessary to solve the water issue for everyone - those in the Central Valley, Bay Area and Southern California.

TCV: Population growth in the Bay Area has resulted in pressure on this area to create significant additional housing. Does ACWD have any influence over this growth?

Piraino: We have a lot more say that we did five or 10 years ago. Legislation has been passed that requires a water supply assessment for large residential and industrial developments. The water must be available based on planning. We have done about a half dozen of those over the last couple of years.

Wadlow: There is a closer nexus now that ever before between required availability of water and the ability to proceed with development. Before a large development can go forward, we have to identify normal and dry year demands. We must be able to meet both conditions to go forward. This doesn't mean finding a new source of supply. There is a lot of emphasis in our portfolio on conservation. We will have to increase our efforts in the future.

Piraino: Recycled water is another method of increasing supply. Some of the larger developments have been told that even though it is not currently available, a pipeline to bring recycled water for irrigation and non-potable uses is required. This type of additional supply will be incrementally available. These are not equivalent to large sources of water from Hetch Hetchy or the Delta, but they are important for reliability for our customers.

This concludes the first portion of the interview with former ACWD General Manager Paul Piraino and current ACWD General Manager Walt Wadlow. The conclusion of this interview will appear in the January 13 issue.

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