A CVWD well structure. While it looks unassuming, a similar structure in Thermal serves more than 32,000 residences and businesses. Photo courtesy of CVWD

The uninterrupted flow of clean drinking water to more than 32,000 residences and businesses in the eastern Coachella Valley became just a little more secure in early April.

That’s when the state of California approved a $300,000 grant to the Coachella Valley Water District for the purchase and installation of a permanent emergency backup generator at the site of well No. 6808 in Thermal.

Here’s why that backup generator is so important: Whenever the Imperial Irrigation District has a power outage in the Thermal area, the well-water system that serves those east valley residents—for both consumption and fire protection, in the communities of Thermal, Mecca, Desert Shores, Salton Sea Beach and Salton City —suffers an outage as well.

“What we’ve done when the power goes off at a well is transport a portable generator out there—and that takes a lot of time,” said Katie Evans, the CVWD director of communications and conservation, during a recent interview. “It’s a matter of calling in a standby crew, if the outage was not during business hours; getting them here (to our Coachella headquarters); getting them a generator; hauling it out there; hooking it up to the system; and then turning it on. That can be a lot of time for the community to be without their well. So the intention of having this generator placed there permanently is that, in the event of a power outage—which we do experience here, as you know—we’re able to kick that emergency generator on right away.”

This increased level of service to these east valley communities was first made possible when the CVWD Highway 86 Extension Project, begun in 2018, was completed—with the new pipeline coming online just weeks ago.

“That water system out there, that we call the West Shores system, hadn’t been connected to our (main) system until recently,” Evans said. “So it was like its own little water system, with a well and a distribution system that just served that area. Then there was a lot of space before you got to our big system that serves most of the rest of the Coachella Valley.”

The CVWD handles water, agricultural drainage, wastewater treatment and reclamation services, regional stormwater protection, groundwater management and water conservation for approximately 108,000 residential and business customers across 1,000 square miles, primarily in Riverside County, plus portions of Imperial and San Diego counties.

“We turned the valve on the pipeline to connect the two systems on March 8,” Evans said. “There’s still some testing being done in that area to make sure that the systems are connected correctly—so it’s not entirely on its own anymore, but we’re still working through connecting it to our main system by doing some water-quality testing.”

Now that the new connection is finally functioning, the addition of a permanent emergency generator at the No. 6808 well site will provide a backup strategy during power outages.

“It’s been a matter of calling in a standby crew, if the outage was not during business hours; getting them here (to our Palm Desert headquarters); getting them a generator; hauling it out there; hooking it up to the system; and then turning it on. That was a lot of time for the community to be without their well.”

Katie Evans, the CVWD director of communications and conservation

“Since we consolidated our West Shores system, the importance of this well has increased significantly,” Evans elaborated in an email after our initial interview. “When we consolidated that system, we took other wells offline, and now we rely more heavily on this well. Now we serve 7,400 more people from this well, and we cannot risk losing power to this facility.”

The state grant to CVWD was made possible by the 2020-21 Community Power Resiliency program, funded by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, and is intended to help special districts prepare for power outages in disadvantaged communities. Last year, more than 230 special districts applied for an award from the $20 million fund. Requests were limited to $300,000, and the CVWD was one of 96 districts selected.

What are the next steps?

“(As we proceed in) the granting process,” Evans said during our interview, “we’ll work with the state on getting the funding agreement signed, so that we can procure the materials and then begin the process of actually installing that generator. We’ve already done the design for it—where it goes on the site and how it connects to the system, so we’re ready to go.”

The $300,000 grant won’t cover the entire cost of the backup-generator project, which is slated to cost around a half-million dollars. How will the CVWD make up that shortfall?

“Sometimes what we’ll do is set aside a (required) funding match, so in this case, it was the $200,000. Often times, (the state) will make you show (matching funds) before you apply for the grant,” Evans said.

How long will it take for the backup generator be in place?

“I think it will be completed in the fiscal year of 2021-2022,” which begins on July 1, Evans said. “Actually, it’s perfect timing for a project that’s going to be done in the new fiscal year, because we are just finalizing our new budget at this time.”

Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald is the staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. He started as a freelance writer for the Independent in June 2013, more than a year after he and his wife moved from Los Angeles...

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