Building is fun, maintaining is boring

As we’ve seen lately with collapsing bridges, it’s one thing to build “visionary” infrastructure. It’s another thing to operate and maintain it for all the decades of its planned life.

Compromised SWP operations could be a really BIG elephant in a room already full of pachyderms.

In January of 2011, the California Water Commission (CWC) got a briefing from Ralph Torres, Deputy Director for the State Water Project on “State Water Project Current Issues and Challenges.” (We reported on this meeting on 1/27/11.)

Torres reported that that for the first time in 2010, the SWP actually missed making water deliveries. There were breakdowns and forced outages because the SWP couldn’t find and retain qualified water and power dispatchers – people who knew things like how to properly schedule energy to turn on a pump.

That year, the SWP paid $57,000 in fines for not meeting North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) regulations for activities such as relay testing.

At the time, the SWP couldn’t offer competitive wages to qualified electricians, mechanics, and operators. Torres reported that SWP salaries lagged 32% below the industry median in 2010.

One result of these staffing problems was that the SWP faced a significant backlog of deferred maintenance. Deferred maintenance leads to increased energy costs, reduced equipment service life, and possibly decreased safety, for both employees and the public. Torres told the commissioners, “We won’t give up safety to deliver water.”

With SWP reserves as low as DWR is reporting, it’s doubtful that this situation has improved much in the last three years.

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