District considers projects to better handle emergencies

By Karen Brainard

Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) is researching options to better handle emergencies that would affect its water customers.

A call response system and an additional power source for the district’s pump station in Poway were discussed at the board’s April 24 meeting.

RMWD General Manager David Barnum told the board that he is looking into a call response system that would allow customers to contact RMWD en masse in an emergency and receive information. During the 2007 wildfire a lot of customers were unable to get through to the district as the lines were busy, Barnum said.

“So this technology, for a tiny amount of money, will allow our customers in an emergency — thousands of them — to contact us and there will be a pre-recorded script that will be able to inform the community of the ongoing emergency, the status, the resolution and also provide them information on where to go to get a variety of information,” he said.

Barnum told the Sentinel that the system would be through a third party — in this case, AT&T — and the fee would be just under $50 per month. When an emergency would arise and the system would be activated, the district would be charged one-tenth of one cent per call he said, adding that 10 calls would then cost 1 penny. Barnum said he will present more information on the system at the May 8 meeting.

Also at the meeting, Keith Davidson, president of DE Solutions, gave a presentation on a proposed second power source for the Poway Pump Station, which relies on electricity to pump water 1,000 feet uphill to RMWD pipelines.

Barnum noted that over the past six years there have been multiple emergencies beyond the district’s control that have impacted power to the pump station. Those emergencies included the 2007 wildfire and the September 2011 San Diego Gas & Electric blackout .

“Without electricity at the Poway pump station, water cannot be pumped up the hill and it causes a slight concern for our customers and a great concern for the board and staff,” said Barnum.

Davidson proposed replacing the electric pumps with a combo pump that could run on electricity or natural gas.

“Natural gas prices are down about 35 percent,” said Davidson.

Barnum said the district would need to partner with SDG&E, which has a gas line about a mile away from the pump station. The district would also need to partner with Blue Sky Reserve because construction of the pipeline would have to cut through the ecological park to reach the pump station.

In addition to the benefit of power reliability if the electricity goes out, Barnum said they are also looking at being able to operate the pumps remotely which would improve efficiency and eliminate the need for an employee to be on-site during an emergency.

Another benefit, he said, could be long-term cost savings. Depending on the gas engine option selected, Davidson estimated the capital cost to be $1.5 million to $2 million, and the district could see a cumulative savings of $1 million in 10 years. Barnum, however, said the savings could be greater.

To pay for the project, Barnum said the district would have to obtain a loan. The project would be considered a capital replacement, he said, so the district would not need voter approval as required under Proposition NN for capital improvement projects with an authorized debt limit of about $2 million.

The board voted unanimously to direct staff to initiate discussions with Blue Sky Reserve and with SDG&E, and then continue to investigate the natural gas option.

In other business, the board agreed to enter into a memorandum of understanding with San Diego County and Cal Fire for defensible space enforcement, fire prevention inspections and related services. The water district partners with Cal Fire for the defensible space program.

   
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