California water association urges PUC to exempt it from rolling blackouts

Drinking water quality could be jeopardized and fire safety compromised if water utilities are not exempted from rolling blackouts, the Association of California Water Agencies warned the California Public Utilities Commission.

Drinking water quality, fire safety jeopardized by CPUC draft decision, says ACWA

March 28, 2001—Drinking water quality could be jeopardized and fire safety compromised if water utilities are not exempted from rolling blackouts, the Association of California Water Agencies warned the California Public Utilities Commission.

"Water is even more essential and basic to human life and endeavors than electricity," said Dan Smith, ACWA's director of regulatory affairs. "We do not believe there is justification to reject and ignore the need to assure that water agencies at all times are able to consistently provide adequate supplies of good quality water."

ACWA prepared comments in response to a draft decision issued March 16 by the CPUC not to classify water utilities as "essential facilities" exempt from rotating power outages. ACWA is appealing to the full Commission for blackout protection. The PUC could be poised to make a final decision as early as today.

"Undermining the reliability of water service is not only a risk for public health, safety and welfare, it also could threatened many economic activities and the basic economic stability of many local communities and the state itself," Smith said.

While many water utilities do maintain back-up power generators, those systems have been designed for use in true emergencies, such as floods, fires or earthquakes. They are not intended to be used as alternative power sources. Sudden outages and power surges can also create mechanical problems for water utility equipment, resulting in extended down time beyond the period of the blackout.

If an agency's water treatment facilities are disrupted by a power outage, a two-hour blackout can result in a two-day interruption in providing safe drinking water as equipment is brought back on line and potentially contaminated water flushed from the system.

ACWA described the current blackout policy for water agencies as inadequate. At present, a water agency may request to be excluded from a blackout or to have electric service restored if necessary because of an emergency, such as firefighting.

ACWA warned that trying to communicate with a power company to restore power in the event of a fire emergency would be problematic at best. By the time power was restored, it could likely be too late.

ACWA is a statewide organization whose 438 public agency members are responsible for about 90% of the water delivered in California.

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