Water Company Wants State Probe Of Overlapping District’s Recycled H2O Pipes

An apparent misunderstanding between a private water company and an overlapping water agency has created a flap in Yucaipa Valley.
In a communication with the regional water quality control board, the South Mesa Water Company has asserted the health of residents in Yucaipa and across the Riverside County line in Calimesa might have been endangered by the action of the Yucaipa Valley Water District.
Conversely, the Yucaipa Valley Water District maintains that its piping was properly marked and that South Mesa’s taking recourse in a request of the state for action over the matter was an overreaction and an outgrowth of the inadequacy of South Mesa’s maps.
South Mesa has contacted regional state water regulators calling for an audit of the Yucaipa Valley Water District recycled water system following the discovery of what it characterized as unmarked recycled water pipes. Asserting the situation may pose a threat to public health, South Mesa officials said they took the extraordinary action of calling the action of a local governmental agency into question after water district officials were unresponsive to their inquiries into the matter.
“The call comes two weeks after a request by South Mesa for maps and schematics of the system to the Yuciapa Valley Water District went without reply,” South Mesa spokeswoman Monica Valencia said of the request that the State Water Resources Control Board look into the matter.
David Armstrong, general manager of the South Mesa Water Company, said, “We are eager to work with the Yucaipa Valley Water District to ensure that our drinking water supply remains safe. But the lack of a response from the Yucaipa Valley Water District to our request for information makes cross connections a threat to public health and safety.”
On Thursday, December 8, South Mesa wrote to the State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Drinking Water, and the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, stating concerns regarding pipes that are carrying recycled water thought to be unfit for human consumption which are unmarked and therefore indistinguishable from pipes carrying potable water. Specifically, South Mesa is requesting water regulators audit the Yucaipa Valley Water District recycled water system in the South Mesa service area to verify that it meets technical and operational requirements and is also in compliance with the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
According to South Mesa, a recycled water pipeline its workers encountered at L Avenue and Calimesa Boulevard was copper, which was out of compliance with state water code requiring recycled water lines be a distinctive purple color background with black uppercase lettering with the words “Caution: Reclaimed Recycled Water. Do Not Drink.” The color coding is required to ensure recycled water, used to irrigate landscaped areas such as parks and golf courses, is kept separate from drinking water.
On Thursday December 15, a week after the South Mesa letter to the State Water Quality Control Board, Joseph Zoba, the general manager of the Yucaipa Valley Water District, told the Sentinel that recycled water lines his agency has located in its jurisdiction are all properly marked and that the problem was one that arose out of South Mesa not having updated its maps or failing to coordinate properly with coexisting utility entities.
“About three weeks ago, during a development that involved new curb and gutter, they hit an underground line which was installed at the request of the City of Calimesa in 2004 or 2005 for future median landscaping,” Zoba said. “I think that is what their concern is about. The pipeline was properly put into place and we had the right to put it there for future services and we secured-the-right of way at that time so we don’t have to tear out the street when the time comes to do the landscaping.”
Zoba said South Mesa had made much out of having encountered a copper pipe, which in fact it had, but that the circumstance wasn’t entirely as South Mesa had described it. Zoba told the Sentinel that it uses copper pipe to convey water, both that of sufficient quality for human consumption and recycled water, which is not intended to be drunk or used for domestic purposes but rather for irrigation. “The copper pipe transporting recycled water has a plastic sleeve around it that is purple,” Zoba said. “That requirement was called out in the specifications for the pipe and that is how it was laid into the ground. Everything above grade is purple in those cases. I think what we have here is a difference of opinion. My staff members provided that information back to the state in our response. I have not heard back from the state yet.”
The Yucaipa Valley Water District is a public agency. The smaller service area of South Mesa lies entirely within the Yucaipa Valley Water District’s jurisdiction. Zoba said that at this point of advanced civilization in the new millennium, a tangled mishmash of utility lines lie below ground in California, including in Yucaipa and Calimesa.
“I have told our staff that they can’t rely just on the presence or absence of markings on what they come across,” Zoba said. “They need to look at our maps, which are constantly updated. Some pipes or lines may have been in the ground for six decades, before markings were required. If they see copper pipe, some people assume the water in it is potable. It is my opinion that everything we have put out there is marked. There are other utilities in the ground, including ones other than water lines, such as gas lines and electrical lines. I think the solution is that we jointly go out and identify what kind of service has been encountered if there is ever a situation where they have come across something someone did not know about.”
Zoba said, “There are coexisting utilities out there and challenges to managing that infrastructure within any service area.” He called for “working together to identify that infrastructure and know what piece is what.” He said South Mesa had overreacted by prematurely going to the state. “What makes the most sense is that anytime they see an underground utility they don’t recognize is they should coordinate with whoever else is in the area,” he said.
The other issue, Zoba said, was that South Mesa’s maps may not have been as thorough or up to date as they should be.
“If they have really good maps on their infrastructure, when they see something in the ground that is not on their map, they should know it is not theirs and contact us,” Zoba said. “That company is over 80 years old, and there are some things they have which may not be on their maps. When they come across things, their presumption is that it belongs to them, and it might be but then again it might not be. If they had better maps, when they came across something that wasn’t theirs then they might not be shocked.”
The requested audit follows South Mesa’s recent water safety alert to Calimesa and Yucaipa residents in Riverside and San Bernardino counties warning them not to tamper with unmarked water pipelines carrying recycled water. Doing so could contaminate the drinking water system and pose a threat to public health and safety, South Mesa asserted.
Valencia said, “The unmarked recycled water pipelines are not designed to hook into the general water system containing potable water. That is why we are concerned that tampering with them could contaminate the drinking water supply.”
If the recycled water pipelines were to be tampered with and connected to the existing domestic water system without there being some sort of one-way/back pressure prevention valves that would inhibit the flow of the non-potable/recycled water into the general system, the water throughout the system could become contaminated.
Recycled water pipes carry treated water from sewage plants that has been filtered for solids and cleaned of impurities. It is not for drinking purposes and is usually limited to beneficial purposes such as agricultural and landscape irrigation.
It is unclear if these recycled water pipes have also been installed in the portion of Yucaipa served by South Mesa. Initial investigations indicate that pipelines were installed by the Yucaipa Valley Water District without providing South Mesa notice or maps. South Mesa has alerted the Yucaipa Valley Water District and awaits their official response.
“The health and safety of our customers is our priority in providing quality water service,” said David Armstrong, general manager of South Mesa Water Company. “South Mesa will continue to keep customers and plumbing companies in our service area updated if more unmarked recycled water lines are discovered.”
South Mesa Water Company was founded in 1912 and provides water to portions of the cities of Calimesa in Riverside County and Yucaipa in San Bernardino County. South Mesa is a mutual water company owned and governed by its customers.

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