375,000 Cautioned to Tighten Taps During Pipe Repair

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Responding to the San Diego County Water Authority’s plan to shut down a major pipeline this Sunday, officials at six water agencies serving East County and the South Bay have asked their customers to begin tightening their taps as of midnight Saturday.

About 375,000 residents in the Helix, Padre Dam, Otay, Sweetwater, Lakeside and Riverview water districts are being asked to stop all outdoor watering and to skimp as much as possible indoors while sections of the pipeline are repaired--a process that is expected to take about a week.

In the meantime, officials said, residents who are concerned about their landscaping can minimize the effects of next week’s cutback by being a bit more generous this week.


“It is probably a good idea to give lawns and trees a good soaking this week, with a final watering sometime Friday or Saturday,” Shirley Massie of the Helix Water District advised.

County engineers plan to shut off the water flowing through Pipeline 4 early on Sunday, temporarily separating East County and South Bay residents from their sole source of treated water. Water service will continue throughout the area, however, thanks mainly to a system of interagency cooperation that allows districts without reservoirs to lean on districts that have stored water.

The Sweetwater Authority, for example, will meet its customers’ needs by dipping into water that collected in local reservoirs during the so-called March Miracle, when it rained several inches. Districts without stored water will rely on the Helix Water District, the city of San Diego and the Sweetwater Authority.

“This means there will be water service during this period,” Paula Roberts, a Sweetwater Authority spokeswoman, said in a statement. “However, it is important to keep as much water as possible in the reservoirs and storage tanks for fire protection and in preparation for another year of drought.”

In addition to the area-wide request for cutbacks, some water districts are going to implement further conservation measures. Otay Water District plans to temporarily interrupt service to construction sites and some irrigation users, according to district spokesman Charlie Cassens.

And in Padre Dam, Lakeside and Riverview water districts, larger water consumers will be contacted individually to restrict their use during the shutdown.


Of the six districts affected by the repair work, all are already averaging about a 30% conservation cutback since April 1--statistics that Padre Dam assistant manager Harry Barber said bodes well for the success of next week’s dry spell.

“If customers respond to this crisis as they have to the drought, we don’t anticipate any major problems,” Barber said in a statement. “But we will be keeping a close eye on the water use to determine whether we need to declare a full-scale emergency and require more restrictive measures.”

Repairs are scheduled to begin Monday on troublesome Pipeline 4, which is the same pipe that ruptured last September, leaving nearly 200,000 residents of the Otay and Padre Dam water districts with just three days’ supply of stored water.

More recently, the 17-year-old concrete pipe--one of the authority’s newest--has begun to corrode. Engineers fear that without next week’s repairs, this deterioration could cause the pipe to fail.

To prevent such a disaster, the county water authority has ordered 16 24-foot sections of steel pipe to replace six sections of Pipeline 4 where it crosses Miramar Naval Air Station east of Interstate 15. In addition, several other sections of pipe will be inspected for damage. If necessary, those sections will also be replaced.

The cost of the repairs has been estimated at $700,000, but officials said that cost could double if more corrosion is found.


Concrete pipes usually last 50 to 100 years, according to James Melton, a spokesman for the county water authority. It is unclear what factors have contributed to shortening the life expectancy of Pipeline 4, but Melton has predicted the problems will probably mean more interruptions in deliveries in the future.

In the authority’s 222-mile system of pipe, about 80 miles are made of prestressed concrete like Pipeline 4. Officials have said all 80 miles will be inspected for damage later this year.