Disaster Preparation Ongoing in Vulnerable Northern California

San Francisco Bay Area water utilities look to tap into an aquifer 500 feet underground to back up surface water sources in the event of an emergency.
Disaster Preparation Ongoing in Vulnerable Northern California
Photo courtesy of Samantha Weigel/San Mateo Daily Journal

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San Francisco Bay Area agencies are making progress with a $113 million project aimed at bolstering water supplies for crisis situations. The agencies recently provided local media an up-close look of the drill rig currently at work trying to tap into an aquifer nearly 500 feet underground. The reveal coincided with the 26th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, the very type of disaster officials hope the water source will be able to help with.

“This has a dual purpose for us,” Steve Ritchie, an assistant general manager with San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said in an NBC report. “A lot of it was driven or designed with drought in mind, but this means we’ll have a local supply that we can have here in case there is a disruption to any of our transmission lines. These groundwater wells will be able to function after an earthquake.”

The SFPUC is partnering with Daly City, San Bruno, and the California Water Service Company on the project, which is expected to be complete in 2018. Surface water drawn from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir will remain the primary source in the area, but in severe drought conditions or a natural disaster like an earthquake, the aquifer will be available so water service isn’t interrupted.

The project is part of the SFPUC’s larger $4.8 billion Hetch Hetchy Water System Improvement Program — more than 80 projects with the goal of building water infrastructure that can withstand seismic activity.

“One of our major supplies (the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir) is 167 miles in the Sierra Mountains and across three major seismic faults. So we invested $4.8 billion to harden that system to make it seismically reliant,” SFPUC General Manager Harlan Kelly told the San Mateo Daily Journal. “But also, one of the goals of our system is to diversify our water supply and look at ways of utilizing groundwater.”

Once complete, the wells tapping the aquifer will be able to contribute more than 7 million gallons per day when needed.

“In the water industry, people have gone to diversifying their water supplies,” SFPUC’s groundwater program manager, Greg Bartow, said in the Daily Journal report. “We were nearly 100 percent surface water and now we’re expanding to groundwater. Kind of like your stock portfolio, it’s good to not have all your eggs in one basket.”

Source: San Mateo Daily Journal, NBC Bay Area


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