In order to provide the community with high-quality, clean water day-in and day-out, the Soquel Creek Water District takes great care in maintaining its infrastructure. The elements of this infrastructure include pump stations to wells, water meters to storage tanks, our buildings to electrical facilities, and more. Inspection, maintenance, and repair of these items is one of the core functions of the District’s operation, and all of those items are critical to how we accomplish our mission.
In addition to those key elements, another critical link in the infrastructural system that we must constantly maintain in great working order is the network of water pipelines throughout our service area. Without them, we would not be able to deliver water to you!
One particular pipeline replacement project is anticipated to be completed later this fall – the Soquel Drive Cast Iron Main Replacement project. For its entire 60 years of service, the corrosive soils in the area have been literally eating away at the cast iron pipeline, leading to increasingly frequent cracks and breaks – most of which have been catastrophic, dangerous, water-wasting, and very expensive to repair.
Although it may be true for humans, the adage “60 is the new 40,” is not at all the case for old-technology cast iron pipelines. In fact, this particular set of pressurized pipelines has reached the end of its useful life – to be reborn as a brand-new water main to better serve the community.
The replacement project began in October of 2020, with the goal of replacing 9,000 feet – about 1.7 miles – of the old, corroded pipeline with a new, up-to-date water main. The new pipeline is made of PVC - not the PVC pipes you might use for your home irrigation, but much stronger “industrial” strength C900 PVC. This is the thickest-walled, most durable PVC pipeline manufactured today, and it can have a useful lifetime of 70 years or more while averting many of the aging issues common to cast iron pipes.
According to Brice Dahlmeier, the District’s associate engineer overseeing this main replacement project,
Many of these old pipes were put in the ground prior to the formation of the district in the 1960s and were not sized to provide adequate flows for fire protection. This main replacement project increases the watermain size from an 8” pipe to a 12” pipe, which will help increase the available flows from hydrants all along this corridor. These larger pipes also help with reducing energy costs, as our well pumps don’t have to work as hard to push water through a small pipe. While these energy savings are small, they add up over decades.
For the last year, the work has been taking place along Soquel Drive from Cabrillo College to State Park Drive, including work on many of the streets connecting to Soquel Drive along the pipeline corridor. Locals know that this stretch of roadway is quite busy with many commercial, retail, and residential buildings, and lots of steady traffic. Crews utilized extensive carefully planned traffic control measures, and also engaged in some night work in one spot to minimize traffic impacts. In addition to the actual pipes, four new underground vaults have been installed, containing pressure regulating valves. Each of those vaults is about 8’ x 8’ x 14’ and weighs 60,000 pounds. People driving by may have seen the crane-assisted installation of these massive components. Our service area has quite a bit of change in elevation between our water storage tanks in the hills, down to the ocean. These pressure regulating valves allow us to reduce pressure in the lower elevations which protects our distribution system as well as our customers’ plumbing.
This project comes after a similar project completed in 2014 which replaced failing cast iron pipe along Soquel Dr from 41st Ave to Cabrillo College. With the completion of this current project, the District is making progress on its “backbone” to distribute reliable water to our community for decades to come.
District staff are justifiably proud of this complex project and the amount of people and agencies it takes to build a project of this nature. At the District level, our Engineering department designed the pipeline, handles the project management and inspections and our Operations department coordinates the water shutoff notices, safely decommissions the old main, and conducts the flushing of the new main. Our contractor, Pacific Underground Construction, provides the labor, equipment, and expertise to build the infrastructure. The County Sanitation department makes sure we can flush the new watermains into their system without overwhelming the sewer system. The County Encroachment department manages our impacts to traffic. Not to mention all the coordinating with other utilities (PG&E, AT&T, Comcast, Cabrillo, Sewer) for design and conflicts in the field and emergency response, when needed. It takes a village. Thank you to our customers for being patient with water outages, construction noise, and traffic delays.
Our staff does an amazing job of maintaining the entire infrastructure of the water system. It’s a job that’s always ongoing, one which is crucial to the system’s resilience and reliability. And we know how important it is to you – in our most recent community survey (2020) 91% of respondents supported investment in our water infrastructure to ensure a safe, reliable water supply. We take that very seriously. So, for us, infrastructure maintenance, repair, and replacement are not just tasks to be completed – they are fundamental responsibilities. We strive to ensure we are meeting those responsibilities by maintaining a system that our customers can depend on to get their water every day.
For a look at a map and information on this and other District projects, visit soquelcreekwater.org/CIP.