PG&E procures pipe for South Yuba canal repairs sooner than expected | News

Mother Nature kindly provided Nevada County with abundant rainfall last week, improving water supplies in the reservoirs. This was good news for the Nevada Irrigation District (NID), whose infrastructure is still not functioning at 100% due to damage caused earlier this year.

The supply of raw or untreated water is particularly important this time of year as the irrigation season began on April 15th.

“We anticipated that this latest round of storms probably gave us about 10 days to two weeks of additional water supply,” NID operations manager Armon “Chip” Close said during Tuesday’s board meeting.

Reservoirs like Scotts Flat and Rollins Lake will provide water to Placer and Nevada County while parts of the South Yuba Canal, owned by PG&E, are repaired.

According to Close, the first snow survey delivered quite good results with 86% of the average measurements.

“Not as high as some of the results the rest of the state has seen, but still, our reservoirs are so full … and we're in really good shape,” Close said. “We won’t be able to capture much more than what’s already up there. The numbers are very positive across the state.”

The conservation efforts requested by NID water users have also proven helpful, with customers saving approximately 11% of NID's water storage compared to the last decade.

A temperature forecast for eight to 14 days shows it will be hot, which will also impact water supplies.

“You have to expect that it will happen at some point. We’ve been really lucky so far,” Close said.

The snow at higher elevations slowed work at and around the Spaulding power plants for a short time, but the downside was the additional water levels in the reservoirs, said Paul Moreno, director of PG&E Marketing & Communications.

The additional rainfall was welcomed by CEO Rich Johansen, who said: “You can't underestimate how much the rain has helped in the fields. “Everything is being planted and the pond has plenty of water.”

The reports and updates were much more positive than months ago, when severe damage to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) infrastructure at Lake Spaulding effectively cut off NID's water supply.

Warnings of limited water supplies were predicted to impact deliveries to all NID customers – raw water and treated water customers in Nevada and Placer counties.

The impact of draining the reservoirs to make up for the loss of water flow from the Spaulding Power Plants was categorized as drought conditions, falling lake levels and reduced recreational opportunities this summer.

NID customers were asked to voluntarily reduce their water use by 20%, with the promise that if next year was not a drought year, miners' original tariff allocation would be restored.

NID General Manager Jenifer Hanson presented nearly 20 questions to PG&E during an April 24 meeting, and PG&E's Sierra Division Government Affairs Brandon Sanders was able to provide satisfactory answers to those questions.

Sanders generally serves as a liaison to local governments, but in this case to water utilities and water authorities, and this week he offered updates to the public and the NID Board of Directors.

“We are still very confident that with our June 18 deadline we can restore partial flows through the advanced facilities up there. There are details, but essentially our goal is to restore flows of about 400 cubic feet per second by June 18.”

A 240-foot section of that 50-inch-thick steel pipe was destroyed in the February landslide, and PG&E received the replacement sooner than expected.

“The really good news is that we thought the lead time for sourcing permanent repair materials would be much longer than it ended up being. Our logistics and materials people were able to get the pipe material much earlier than we did,” Sanders said. “I am convinced that this will result in significant cost savings for both sides.”

Board Chairman Rich Johansen mentioned that some NID board members and staff will be meeting with Congressman Kevin Kiley later Tuesday and that interest in the crisis is of interest to both Nevada and Placer Counties.

PG&E also met with Congressman Kiley's office on Thursday and will continue to meet with them twice a month, according to Sanders.

There was a proposal for a temporary line, but PG&E met with NID about twice a week and both agencies agreed not to forego the temporary line, according to Paul Moreno, director of PG&E Marketing & Communications.

“Once we complete the rock concreting, we expect to begin the construction phase of the pipe,” Moreno said. “We hope to have it ready by mid-May.”

Rock scaling is the process of removing loose or potentially unstable rock that could become loose or affect the trajectory of falling rock by creating a starting point for material falling from above.

According to Jennifer Hanson, NID executive director, the channel, including the South Yuba Tube, is at high risk.

“Any natural event that destroys it, be it a landslide or a tree fall. At some point in the winter there’s usually a problem,” Hanson said. “Going forward, we need to look for alternatives to reduce risk, but the entire segment is at risk. I think our biggest risk is probably related to wildfires. There is a lot of tall timber in the channel and that would require significant infrastructure changes that cost a lot of money, but we will talk to you about that when we start implementing the capital program.”

There was a question about the repair work schedule and the number of people assigned to each crew working on the South Yuba pipe repairs and the Spaulding 1 PRV discharge horn and structural repair.

The actual pit beneath the facility only has room for five to seven employees at a time, but other team members are busy with the work.

“We have helicopter operations. We have engineering teams, security teams and all these people. There are dozens if not more than 100 people actively working on the project, but compared to the people in the hole doing the work, the work on the critical path, that's a relatively small number of people, just given the Space limitations,” Sanders said.

Once permanent repairs to the South Yuba Tube are completed, an additional 200 cubic feet per second will flow through the Spaulding 2 power plant.

“Once again, I’m trying to restore multiple pathways that carry water through this facility,” Sanders said.

PG&E forecasts repairs to the South Yuba pipe will be completed by Aug. 1, according to Sanders, which Hanson said is due in part to the earlier-than-expected procurement of the replacement line.

“We have provided NID employees with a timeline for each construction milestone, some of which are subject to the confidentiality provisions of our coordinated operating agreement, but your employees have this information and are available to them to make their operational decisions as appropriate,” Sanders said .

According to Sanders, there were two columns that essentially supported the floor of the power plant. The powerhouse has not collapsed. They were the two pillars. One was completely destroyed and the second was badly damaged.

NID Director Karen Hull noted that it is an ongoing frustration that NID is not privy to the inspection and maintenance schedule controlled by PG&E and surprise outages are not well received.

“It is difficult to understand how we could have suddenly failed at this level. Therefore, I agree that it would be helpful to better understand the systematic approaches to ongoing maintenance of a system that is so important to our district,” Hull said.

Ricki Heck, vice president of the NID board, could hardly believe that there were no glaring warning signs in the column, such as cracks or weaknesses, that PG&E ignored.

“I just can't believe that someone somewhere hasn't seen evidence that this undermines the point of a possible collapse. I'm just trying to deal with it. “What happened?” Heck said. “Where were the indicators and why didn’t anyone see it? And if they saw it, why wasn’t anything done before a disaster occurred…right?”

Director Trevor Caulder wanted to continue discussions with PG&E about the responsibility and costs that will be passed on to customers.

“Are we going to have a conversation about what the cost-sharing responsibility agreement is? For the South Yuba Canal, it's both parts – Spaulding 1 and Spaulding 2 – because I think the public will be shocked to learn that we'll end up adapting some of them for construction,” Caulder said. “I think this needs to be done as publicly as possible.”

Caulder continued, “How can we as a water district make sure something like this doesn’t happen? And I think the only way to do that is to be much more aware of the maintenance and inspection cycles than we probably were.”

Some of the cost-sharing discussions between NID and PG&E will take place in closed sessions. However, if there is a change to the budget amendment, a public meeting will be required, according to Hanson.

“I agree that the public has a right to know what this is and what the potential cost is,” Hanson said.

According to Hanson, NID has “no rights” in the operating agreement to review PG&E's repair and inspection plans unless NID also has to pay for them under what are known as “extraordinary events.”

“We have two different priorities, right? We are a water supply agency and our first obligation is water supply. You are an energy supplier. Your first obligation is power. And our system is mixed to the extent that we mix. We have been moving water through each other's systems for over 100 years. In an ideal world it would be easier if NID controlled the entire watershed… that is not the case at the moment. We have to operate within the boundaries and legal agreements,” Hanson said.

Director Caulder requested that discussions with PG&E continue to focus on what inspections are performed regularly and how those reports are communicated to avoid surprise emergencies like the one announced in March.

“From my perspective, I don’t think PG&E is doing anything nefarious, right? My question is: what is the maintenance schedule? What is the inspection plan? And do we get the reports and go through them? Personally, I don't think we need to deploy people [from NID] in a tunnel. We can assume they are conducting inspections,” Caulder said.

The next NID Board meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. May 22 in the conference room of the NID Administration Building at 1036 West Main Street in Grass Valley.

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