As a precautionary measure for the upcoming fire season and possible power outages, Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) figured a portable back-up generator could be the solution to assure water is available for fire protection at one of the district’s pumping stations — until the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) gave notice.
The pumping station at state Route 67 and Hedy Lane serves 46 to 50 homes. RMWD General Manager Ralph McIntosh said that area has not burned since 1967.
Due to San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) proposed shut-off plan during weather-related fire potential times, and due to numerous power outages annually at the Hedy Lane station, RMWD staff thought it would be beneficial to have a portable generator there.
McIntosh explained that most generators that size are diesel-fueled and therefore regulated by the APCD. The county requirements are based on state regulations in the Portable Equipment Registration Program (PERP).
Although RMWD staff members believed they were following APCD requirements, the agency notified the district that the generator had to be removed or it would be in violation of being at a location for more than 12 consecutive months. That led to McIntosh writing the APCD about the conflicting use of the terms “consecutive” 12-month period and “cumulative” 12-month period.
McIntosh pointed out that the PERP certificate states that a replacement engine shall not reside at the same location for more than 12 consecutive months, not 12 cumulative months. He noted that the district had a rental generator at the Hedy Lane Pump Station for several months because of SDG&E’s threat to cut power. It was removed in July 2009.
On Sept. 1, the start of fire season, a rental was placed there again but removed after three months. At the end of December a district-owned portable generator was placed at the site.
“Since our generator was put in place, it has only been there about 3-1/2 consecutive months,” McIntosh stated in his letter.
Jorge Lopez of the APCD responded that the equipment must meet portability requirements. He included in his response an explanation of PERP regulations’ definition of “portable,” which states that any back-up engine that replaces an engine and is intended to perform the same function as the engine being replaced will be included in calculating the consecutive time period. In that case, the cumulative time of the equipment including the time between removal of one generator and installation of another will count toward the consecutive time period.
McIntosh said essentially anything cumulative equals consecutive. “If a generator is put in place for one month, removed for 10 months and then another or same generator is put back at the same location for one month within the same year, it is deemed a cumulative action and falls under the 12-month consecutive requirements, even though it was only in place for two months within that year.
“It’s really a convoluted requirement that I think is horrible,” said McIntosh. “Those generators never got fired off once. These things didn’t run. What really is the impact? I think it comes down to money.”
Another obstacle for RMWD came with the words “foreseen” and “unforeseen.” Under any foreseen circumstance, which would include SDG&E’s power shut-off if authorized, RMWD is not allowed to place a generator at that site again because APCD said it would exceed 12 consecutive months and would be in violation, said McIntosh. Currently, with SDG&E’s plans unknown, the situation is unforeseen.
Without a generator onsite during a wildfire and, if there is a loss of power, McIntosh said it would take two to six hours to get a generator to the Hedy Lane Pump Station, wire it in and test it. During the Witch fire in 2007, a downed power line shut electricity off to RMWD’s pump station in Poway, cutting water coming into Ramona.
McIntosh and attorneys Sophie Akins and Jennifer Haley of Best, Best & Krieger met with APCD Director Robert Kard and his staff May 3 to explain their need for the generator as it related to the proposed shut-off plan, and to get a clearer understanding of the regulations and possible consequences.
APCD staff suggested the portable generator could be permitted as a stationary source with the county, but RMWD staff said that would cost the district additional fees and would eliminate the generator’s portability. APCD staff said a non-compliant violation could be $10,000 to $25,000 per day.
The morning after the meeting, RMWD staff removed the generator. An hour and a half later, a Notice of Violation (NOV) was delivered to RMWD. There was no indication at the meeting with APCD that a violation would be issued, said McIntosh.
Communication ensued between McIntosh and the APCD, followed by RMWD’s legal counsel.
The APCD has since stated the water district will not have to pay any fines, but the violation notice may be used against RMWD in determining penalties if future violations are found. RMWD is protesting that decision but has not received a response yet.
“They’re going to have to work with us one way or another,” said McIntosh.
In the meantime, RMWD had to look at ways to protect the area around Route 67 and Hedy Lane if threatened by a wildfire. As McIntosh stated in a letter to the APCD, the Hedy Lane Pump Station is over 50 years old and is a pressure-boosting type of facility so, when power is lost, the water pressure and supply is immediately lost. There is no water then for fire protection without electricity.
The solution will be a new pipeline installed from the newly constructed Boulder Tank, which, when completed, will remove the pump station from service. RMWD will then no longer need to worry about a power source there.
“RMWD was forced to find about $70,000 for the installation of this pipeline that will be installed by district personnel,” said McIntosh.
He hopes to have the line completed before the upcoming fire season.
“It’s kind of a blessing and a curse,” said McIntosh. “They will have great fire protection now.”
According to McIntosh, the pipeline will save the water district $30,000 to $40,000 in maintenance each year.
“That’s where the blessing is,” he said.