Metro Water District shares how it will repair huge pipe bringing water to SoCal from Colorado River – San Bernardino Sun

Days before nearly 4 million residents in Southern California will be asked to suspend outdoor watering for 15 days from Sept. 6 to Sept. 20, and during one of the worst heat waves of the year, officials with the Metropolitan Water District shared details about repairing the leak in a massive water pipeline.

Residents of dozens of cities and communities from Burbank to Long Beach, and from Malibu to Pomona, and including areas served by the Central Basin Municipal Water District, Foothill Municipal Water District, Three Valleys Municipal Water District and West Basin Municipal Water District, will be impacted by the restrictions during the repairs.

The repairs were required after officials discovered a leak in the 36-mile-long Upper Feeder pipeline owned by the Metropolitan Water District, which moves water from the Colorado River to California.

Officials said that in April they discovered the leak, whose location they won’t identify aside from saying it is in Riverside County. The pipeline has been providing water at a reduced capacity following efforts by a crew to perform temporary repairs.

Now, the district plans to fix it permanently to avoid a disastrous failure of one of the region’s most crucial water systems.

“What we want to make sure is that we don’t have a catastrophic failure of that critical pipe,” said Adel Hagekhalil, the Metropolitan Water District’s general manager, during a Tuesday, Aug. 30 press conference. “Because if that fails,” he said, “it’ll be an emergency and we will lose water.”

Hagekhalil referred to the repairs needed for the leaking pipe as performing “emergency surgery versus a catastrophic surgery.”

Although the streaming press conference held on Tuesday was marred by sound problems, Hagekhalil got across his message that the leak is a reminder that the water district needs to invest in its aging infrastructure.

Brent Yamasaki, the district’s system operations manager, said during the press conference that “the shutdown has been months in the making.”

“Imagine you’ve got a bridge with a pipeline on it, it’s 1,000 feet (across) and it crosses a river,” Yamasaki said. “You don’t want to do this in the wintertime when it’s raining.” He said crews will be working 24/7 to complete the repairs.

Maritza Fairfield, a spokeswoman with the Metropolitan Water District, said in a phone interview that the district is declining to share the exact location of the broken pipeline in Riverside County due to security concerns.

The pipeline has been running at reduced capacity since the district discovered that a bellows joint had cracked, Fairfield said, adding that crews “applied a temporary repair that allowed us to keep operating at reduced capacity.” Bellows joints are flexible elements that absorb movements in a pipe system.

“As soon as we were made aware of it, we made the temporary repair,” she said, adding that it took crews nearly 10 weeks to manufacture a bellows joint to replace the joint that cracked.

It’s unclear how large the leak was, but the district doesn’t normally shut down a pipeline for minor repairs, Fairfield noted.

“It’s more of a leak that we need to address now,” she said. “It’s definitely significant.”

Now that a replacement for the broken part is ready to be installed, officials said, the district is ready to complete long-term repairs.

The reason the district launched repairs during one of the worst heat waves of the year, Fairfield explained, is because “we can’t project the weather ahead of time. We did wait until after Labor Day to be able to schedule this shutdown, but we have to do the work.”

Starting Sept. 6, the Upper Feeder pipe will stop operating completely to allow workers to conduct repairs.

The Upper Feeder delivers water from the Colorado River, but during the repairs, Fairfield said, the district will be switching over to supplies from the California State Water Project — a multipurpose water storage and delivery system that stretches nearly 705 miles and delivers water through a network of canals, pipelines, reservoirs and hydroelectric power facilities.

In a normal year, a pipeline shutdown wouldn’t be an issue, Fairfield said, because the district would just switch over to the State Water Project’s supply. But those supplies are extremely limited due to the record-breaking drought, she said, adding that “the situation is more difficult.”

The upcoming water ban sparked criticism from residents and businesses who feared the two-week shutdown would destroy their trees, gardens and lawns.

Officials with the water district recommended using water collected from the shower to water plants, and to start deep-watering trees on Sept. 5, the day before the start of the ban. They said mulching is important to saving gardens and trees. Experts say using mulch can save 20-30 gallons of water per 1,000 square feet each time residents water their gardens and lawns.

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