Posts Tagged ‘infrastructure’

This is the second in a series of posts by MMWD’s interns, summer helpers, and watershed aides about their experiences at the district. Read the previous post here.

by Lauren Valenti, Water Treatment Intern

When I was young I knew I wanted to become a scientist. I pictured myself wearing a lab coat and figuring out how stuffed worked and why. I am very proud to be doing just that—specifically studying water treatment and quality. I got my degree from Sonoma State University with a concentration in Water Quality and Hazardous Waste Management. When I found out I would become one of the first interns to work at one of Marin Municipal Water District’s water treatment plants, I was elated to start working.

I was placed at the Bon Tempe Water Treatment Plant located on Mt. Tamalpais. Bon Tempe is an amazing facility; Lake Bon Tempe is our main source of water. Water flows to our plant and through it by gravity alone. This facility can act as an emergency relief plant serving Marin County because it can produce water directly to the public with very little to no power at all.

I was treated just like a normal trainee while accompanying operators to monitor chemical feeding and water quality tests in our own lab at the plant. It might not sound hard, but when put on a four-hour schedule of rounds, lab work, calculations, chemical deliveries, washing filters, filling out paperwork, and constantly monitoring multiple computer screens, one’s day and/or night can become demanding. Yes, nights too! The plant is always running—24 hours a day, seven days a week, including all holidays.

The experience overall has been invaluable for me. As a district MMWD sets high standards that surpass many federal and state regulations. This is an outstanding achievement when numerous different departments and many individuals are relentlessly working as one. I have been privileged to work with many other men and women who exhibit an overwhelming sense of professionalism in a field that I truly care about and see a future for myself in, thanks to MMWD.

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by Charlene Burgi

Persian water wheel

Persian water wheel near Khajuraho, India. (Photo courtesy of Ann Vallee.)

Ann Vallee, the invaluable person behind the scenes of this blog who works in Public Information at MMWD, recently took an amazing trip to India. Knowing my interest in irrigation, she sent pictures of cattle tethered to a Persian water wheel. As they walked in circles, the cattle turned a series of gears that caused a chain of buckets to lift water up from a well. The water then poured into a system of troughs that ran out to the fields to water the crops, or it could be collected in a vessel for household use.

She also spoke of public water wells in villages where people washed clothes and dishes, bathed, and filled their pots with the precious liquid to carry home—some feat as one gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds! And what can you do with just one gallon of water? (This is a test question!)

Ann’s stories reminded me of a Greek garden I designed some years back. The family was from Greece and recalled similar public water fountains from their past life. They asked me to include a fountain in the garden as a daily reminder of the luxury they now enjoy by just turning on the tap. (The garden fountain was designed with a water-saving recirculating pump, unlike the free-flowing fountains they experienced in Greece.)

These descriptions of how people live made me think. Life in Lassen County has given me a new perspective on living conditions, but none as far removed as our friends in India or other places around the world. Things I took for granted in Marin are not as readily accessible here. I tend to think before acting now: Can I leave the lug of oranges that our dear friends shared with us in the back of the truck overnight? Or will they be solid balls of orange ice in the morning? Can I run out for an errand without carrying a heavy coat in the car? Or will I get caught by a major drop in temperature before coming home?

I am also more aware of the weather conditions. If a storm is coming in, is the generator fueled up and close by to plug into the house if the lights go out? Preparing for winter in Marin included storing a few candles and making certain there were working batteries in flashlights. The impact here is more than just losing electricity. In this valley we now call home, we are totally dependent on electricity to get water to the house—something I never worried about in Marin. Water is now stored in the garage to use conservatively until power is restored to the pump house that sits 1,100 linear feet away and 70 feet lower in elevation than the house. (Advanced test question: What is the friction loss of 1½ inch PVC pipe running 1,100 feet, and how many pounds per square inch (PSI) are lost rising 70 feet?)

Do you realize the same concerns, calculations, and need for power exist in Marin? The difference is you generally don’t need to think about it because MMWD is handling all that behind the scenes. Water must be pumped from lakes to treatment plants, from treatment plants to water storage tanks, and sometimes from storage tanks to your homes. My hat is off to the people at MMWD who assess the demands for each tank, calculating exactly how much water your neighborhood uses at any given time to assure the tanks are at the capacity needed to deliver that water to you—not to mention the engineers who calculate friction losses along miles of pipeline as well as how many pounds of pressure and gallons per minute are available per meter. The district has generators and staff ready to go at any given moment, so that even when you turn on the faucet in a power outage, you have water. It seems as easy as flipping a switch; the reality is it is a luxury taken for granted. And believe me, yours truly did just that for years!

There is someone that I mentioned last week who doesn’t take water for granted. Brad Lancaster will be in the Bay Area this coming week. Brad has taught in many Third World countries and countries that live with an ongoing shortage of water. He lives in Tuscan, Arizona—situated at the end of the tap of the Colorado River. Brad walks the walk as well as talks the talk by utilizing and maximizing available water in a fashion that would lead you to think otherwise if you saw the lush beauty surrounding his home. Come listen and learn about conservation from this man who turns soil into living sponges. Hope to see you there.

And speaking of great learning opportunities, landscape professionals may be interested in the next Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL) training course starting February 25, followed by the QWEL Graywater training starting March 25. Both classes will be in Santa Rosa. See the flier for details.

As for the test questions, please share your answers below. Let’s see how creative you are with one gallon of water, and how many of the pros come up with the correct answers to friction loss and PSI loss!

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Meet MMWD utility crew

Service crew repairing a main break (Photo courtesy of Wendy Menara)

With 900-plus miles of underground pipeline in our system, breaks and leaks will happen. When they do, it’s up to our service crews to make repairs and get the water flowing again promptly.

MMWD has four service crews, each with four crew members: two utility workers or laborers, a heavy equipment operator, and a crew leader who oversees the job while also working right alongside the team. For a typical main break, one service crew can make the repair in three to six hours. For larger, more complicated breaks, crews work together to get the job done. There is always a crew on call—24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week—to respond to emergencies.

For our service crews, every work day is different, depending on what needs arise. On a “normal” day, crews are busy putting in new service connections, installing firelines and hydrants, and making scheduled repairs. But if an emergency call comes in, regular duties are set aside. A main break can mean working all night in the cold or rain to get the water turned back on for our customers.

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If you haven’t visited our offices at 220 Nellen Avenue in Corte Madera in a while, you may notice some big changes next time you drop by.

cast iron pipe fitting at MMWD front entrance

The cast iron pipe fitting at MMWD’s front entrance

First, in spring 2012 we completed construction on a project to improve accessibility to the building by reconfiguring parking and sidewalks to the main entrance and board room. We also installed new landscaping, including a giant double “Y” cast iron pipe fitting dating to 1921 that now functions as a planter next to our front door.

Then, this past fall we completed a remodel of the Customer Service lobby, including installing a new accessible counter. Some of the wood used in the construction was recycled from one of the district’s retired redwood water tanks.

You don’t have to be paying a bill to pay us a visit. The lobby is open 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Browse our free literature, check out a diorama of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, and help yourself to a few dye tablets to test your toilets for leaks. If you’re looking for water-wise gardening ideas, be sure to check out the new flower beds out front and the Water Conservation Garden across the driveway from our main entrance.

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by Robin McKillop

World Water Day logoToday is World Water Day. First declared in 1993, World Water Day has been observed every March 22 for the past 20 years. Recognizing that the fulfillment of basic human needs, our environment, socio-economic development and poverty reduction are heavily dependent on water, the United Nations declared 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation. The objective is to raise awareness of the potential for, and value of, increased cooperation in relation to water.

In many parts of the world, there is no indoor plumbing and people must travel long distances each day to get water. This chore falls mainly on women and girls who walk an average of 3.7 miles a day, carrying loads of 40 pounds in order to obtain water for their families. This job can take as long as six hours per day even though an average person in sub-Saharan Africa uses only about four gallons of water per day. Unfortunately, the daily chore of finding and transporting water often takes the place of education or other opportunities.

In the United States and other developed countries, technology has made using water very easy. We turn on the tap and clean water pours out, seemingly in an endless supply. A complex system of pipes, storage tanks, treatment plants and pumps is used to treat and deliver water to our homes, businesses, parks and institutions every day. In large part these systems are invisible to many of us. We don’t need to think about where our water comes from or where it goes after we use it. We just count on it being there when we need it.

This ease of use has resulted in a drastic increase in the amount of water we use today as compared to 100 years ago. Back in the “old days” many people had to pump and haul their own water for washing, cooking, bathing and other needs, creating a built-in incentive towards strict conservation. These days, the use of water is made even easier with appliances taking over chores like laundry and dishwashing. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that on average a person in the United States today consumes about 100 gallons of water per day. The good news is that progress has been made over the past 40 years in stretching our water supplies through water conservation efforts and the introduction of new technologies like high-efficiency toilets, low-flow showerheads, and front-loading clothes washers.

Here in Marin, we are fortunate to enjoy a reliable supply of high quality water and a strong conservation ethic. Please show your support for World Water Day by taking action to conserve water, both today and beyond. Visit the official World Water Day website for additional information about the importance of freshwater and the need for sustainable management of freshwater resources.

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Water main flushing

An MMWD employee “flushes” a water main by releasing high velocity water from a hydrant.

MMWD’s annual water main flushing program to help maintain water quality gets underway today, January 9, in Fairfax. The 2013 program also includes the San Geronimo Valley, San Anselmo and Ross. Flushing will occur most Wednesdays through March 13 between approximately 8:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Water main flushing is recommended by the California Department of Public Health to remove sediment buildup in transmission and distribution pipelines because the sediment can impair water quality.

Each year MMWD “flushes” approximately 20 percent of its water mains. To flush a water main, selected hydrants along a section of the main are opened. The high velocity of the released water scours the main, removing any collected sediment. After the chloramine is removed by dechlorination tablets, the water is released onto the street and enters the storm drain system. Flushing averages about 15 minutes for each hydrant.

In the past, MMWD performed flushing at night to minimize the impact on residents. In 2011 the district began flushing the pipes during the day to save the overtime costs of sending crews out at night. This year the district will again be flushing the mains in the daytime to reduce costs without compromising water quality.

In addition to water in the street, during flushing customers may notice effects on their own plumbing, including slight pressure drops, air in the lines or “dirty” water. If you notice these effects, we recommend restricting water use during flushing and then running the cold water for a short time afterward to remove any loosened sediment in the pipeline. Be assured the temporary discoloration is not a health concern.

2013 Water Main Flushing Schedule

January 9: Western Fairfax

January 16: Southeastern Fairfax; San Geronimo Valley Floor (Lagunitas/Forrest Knolls); Upper Woodacre

January 30: Town of Woodacre; Cascade and Scenic areas of Fairfax; Oak Avenue in San Anselmo

February 6: Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from Butterfield to “the Hub”

February 13: The Alameda, Oak Springs and Fawn Drive in San Anselmo; Sky Oaks area of Fairfax

February 27: Sleepy Hollow; Scenic Avenue in San Anselmo

March 6: Downtown Ross and San Anselmo

March 13: Oak Manor and top of Fairfax Manor in Fairfax; Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Ross; Laurel Grove in San Anselmo/Ross

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graffiti before

Before: Graffiti on an MMWD facility (photo courtesy of John Lannom)

Graffiti is on ongoing challenge for MMWD. We do our best to clean up obscenities and respond to customer complaints. But with over 200 storage tanks and pump stations throughout our 147-square-mile service area, including many in remote locations, the district simply doesn’t have the staff and resources to remove every tag.

graffiti after

After: The same site after graffiti was painted out. Thank you to MMWD’s awesome neighbors who help keep our tanks graffiti-free!

However, a small group of volunteers is making a difference in their own neighborhoods, “adopting” their local tanks and painting out graffiti when it appears. MMWD supplies the paint and equipment, while these unsung heroes give their time and labor. One dedicated volunteer has been keeping his local tank graffiti-free for eight years.

The district is also taking steps to cut down on graffiti, such as putting in plants to cover blank walls and installing security cameras. You can help, too. Keep an eye on the water facilities in your neighborhood—after all, they belong to all of us! If you see vandals at work, contact the MMWD Operations Center at 945-1500, 24-hours-a-day, and we will notify police.

If you are interested in volunteering to clean up graffiti on your local tank, contact our Volunteer Program at 945-1128 or volunteerprogram@marinwater.org.

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