A safe place to operate: District completes seismic effort

By Tony Mercado, Public Information Representative

When the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake rocked the Bay Area in 1989, the Rinconada Water Treatment Plant’s facilities swayed and rolled, but survived the temblor without any real damage save for a clarifier that went down due to the sloshing of water inside the basins.

Following this month’s complete seismic overhaul of the operations building, the veritable heart of the plant, Supervisor Steve Twitchell feels a lot better knowing that when the next one hits, the chances are even better that significant damage will not occur.

“We really didn’t fare too bad during the last quake, but it was one of the catalysts for the district looking into shoring things up,” he said. “We discovered that the building did not meet life-safety seismic design standards. So we wanted to get it fixed.”

During construction, operators took up residence in on-site trailers, which Twitchell said hurt their “operator sense,” that feeling of having a pulse on the plant.

“Now that we’re back, we’re getting back in tune,” he said. “It’s like when you get in your car and turn on the engine. You can feel how it runs. And now, we can hear the pumps running and feel any irregularities.”

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Retrofitting what was a 50-year-old building was the main goal of the work that began almost two years ago. But it also presented an opportunity to make other improvements such as:

  • A filled in “fish bowl.” The lower level area earned its nickname because it was an open area atrium with no ceiling above it, allowing people walking through the upper level foyer to gaze down at the workers as if they were on display.
  • Greater space. With the upper level opened up, the district is able to move its raw water and water treatment plant operators and supervisors from the lower floors, giving them better visibility of the existing treatment plant.It also allows room to provide tours and educational opportunities for the public.
  • A modernized control room. Operators are now better able to monitor the plant’s heartbeat with updated equipment, including six new 60-inch computer monitors tied into a software system known as SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data acquisition) that essentially runs the treatment plant.
  • Three new conference rooms throughout the building and a new women’s restroom and locker area on the intermediate floor. The old building only had one conference room and no women’s shower or locker room there, though it had a women’s restroom on the upper level.
  • A new water quality monitoring room. Located on the intermediate level, this area serves as the water sampling point at the plant.

Though the water district has finished the work on the building, it’s not the only part of the treatment plant that will see seismic improvements. As part of the Reliability Improvement Project, the district will reinforce each new facility to current seismic standards. It’s all part of the effort that will result in a more efficient delivery of the water district’s mission to provide safe, clean water to Silicon Valley.

“We’ve got a lot of tools in our toolbox to be able to provide drinking water,” Twitchell said.

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