Planned water shut off takes Claremont residents by surprise

A clearer picture of the cause of Tuesday’s water outage is beginning to take shape.

As many as 2,000 customers in Claremont experienced water service interruptions Tuesday, February 6, due to what Ben Lewis, Golden State Water’s Foothill district manager, explained as a “higher-than-usual system demand during a planned maintenance shutdown at the Miramar Treatment Plant operated by Three Valleys Municipal Water District.”

Three Valleys, a regional supplemental water supplier, said that system demand should not have caught Claremont by surprise.

“That’s the wrong emphasis. I would say we absolutely had nothing to do with water outage,” said Three Valleys General Manager Richard Hansen. “We have shut our treatment plant down for one week every year in February for the last 30 years. Three months ago we knew the exact date of the outage.”

Mr. Hansen maintains that steps should have been taken by Golden State to notify its customers beforehand.

“If an outreach program were put in place, this could have been averted,” he said.

Rick Cota, executive director of the service center for the Claremont Unified School District, said the district learned about the outage a little after 6 a.m. Tuesday morning.

“We immediately brought in three port-a-potties—one for staff, one for male students and one for female students—and two portable hand washing stations,” he said.

Although the district quickly resolved the dilemma, Mr. Cota expressed disappointment with Golden State. “We wish the water department would have given us a heads up,” he said. “We have 700 kids up there so we probably should have been given notice about this. We’re prepared but notice would have been nice.”

Mr. Hansen also expressed concern about the city and schools not receiving advanced notice.

“I do know that the city irrigates their parks on a certain day, and the schools irrigate their playgrounds a certain day. I’m not sure if they were notified in advance to cut back,” he said.

Bevin Handel, Claremont’s public information officer, confirmed that the city did not receive advanced notice, but Claremont’s new city manager, Tara Schultz, got word from both Three Valleys and GSW at about 10 p.m. on Monday night.

Three Valleys, according to Mr. Hansen, is a regional water supplier to retail water companies and municipalities, including Claremont and the city of La Verne. He emphasized that it is the responsibility of the water supplier to make notifications to its customers. Also, he said, policy states that agencies are required to maintain their own emergency plans.

“We are part of Metropolitan Water District, and their policy is that retail agencies need to plan for a seven day outage with no water,” Mr. Hansen said. “Obviously, that didn’t happen in Claremont.”

Further, Mr. Hansen explained that as a supplemental water supplier to the region, Three Valleys should not be relied upon for 100 percent of any agency’s demand.

“This year, we’re probably supplying 50 percent [of water to Claremont]. It can be as low as 30 percent or as high as 70 percent,” he explained.

Golden State’s emailed memo said that higher demand earlier this week was “likely tied to unseasonably warm conditions Monday and Tuesday.”

Three Valleys disagrees with that assessment.

“The warm weather doesn’t play in,” Mr. Hansen said. “We do this every year. We’ve known the exact date for three months. We’ve also been communicating with the city of La Verne, and they had no problem whatsoever.”

With adequate notice from Golden State, customers could have reduced water usage during the five-to-seven day period set aside for the valve replacement, he said. Adjusting sprinkler schedules at the schools and city parks alone could have resolved the entire issue, Mr. Hansen said.

“The [Claremont] system probably has inadequate storage to begin with. Three Valleys was working to insert a valve in the pipeline at Golden State’s request, so the pipeline on Miramar Avenue was out of service,” Mr. Hansen said. “We were doing work on their behalf. Had they taken proper steps to notify—and if they had adequate reservoir storage in north Claremont—they would have been fine, just like the city of La Verne.”

The city of La Verne doesn’t get its water from Golden State. It owns and maintains its own municipal system. La Verne played a major role in Claremont’s effort to take over the water system from GSW, even signing a memorandum of understanding to provide system management if the city had prevailed. Claremont lost the eminent domain case and settled in October, agreeing to pay GSW $4,808,480 over 12 years, in addition to its own legal fees of around $6.1 million.

Luckily for Claremont residents, water service was restored by Tuesday afternoon.

“Once GSW contacted us, we jumped through hoops in expediting the work,” Mr. Hansen said. “We had planned an entire week but got the work  done in two days. We got an emergency pump back system by Tuesday afternoon and got [the water] back on.”

Golden State issued a “boil water notice” earlier this week—which was lifted late Thursday afternoon—for residents in impacted areas to kill bacteria and other organisms that may be in the city’s tap water. GSW said, “failure to follow the advisory could result in stomach or intestinal illness.”

Customers notified to boil water were located “primarily” north of Miramar Avenue to the northern city limits and east of Indian Hill to Padua Avenue, and from Foothill Boulevard north to the 210 freeway, east of Stowe Court and west of Monte Vista.

“Water needs to be boiled when you have low pressure because it can suck contamination into the pipe,” Mr. Hansen explained. “Golden State will need to flush the lines and disinfect it. Water is valved with different pressure zones, which is why you need certified operators who know the system.”

Golden State delivered bottled water to homes and businesses in the impacted area, For information, call GSW at (800) 999-4033.

“Somehow the story is ‘Three Valleys shut down our treatment plant.’ No, that doesn’t cut it with me,” Mr. Hansen said.

—Kathryn Dunn

editor@claremont-courier.com

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