By Chair Nai Hsueh, representative for District 5
We are in the midst of an unprecedented fire season. We have seen how the combination of dry conditions, high winds and lightning strikes can ignite dangerous and costly fires that threaten area homes and businesses.
As we experienced last fall, during extremely dry and windy weather PG&E may activate a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS). They do this to reduce the chance of electrical equipment starting a wildfire by pre-emptively shutting down portions of its system.
Also, as we saw during the recent prolonged heatwave, California’s Independent System Operator (CAISO) can trigger rolling power outages when they don’t have enough power to meet demand.
As the 2020 Chair of the Valley Water Board of Directors, I can assure you Valley Water is prepared for these challenges, and committed to our essential work of keeping your water supplies safe and reliable.
Our highly trained emergency and operations staffs built upon last year’s experiences and developed specific plans to address the additional challenges of responding to power outages during the unprecedented Coronavirus public health crisis.
Our drinking water treatment plants are ready and able to continue providing safe, clean water to area retailers during a power outage, with generators tested and a full supply of fuel at the ready. In addition, there are mobile generators ready for deployment to smaller, but no less critical, facilities in the field, the pipeline valves and turnouts necessary to keep the water flowing.
Responding to an emergency while a majority of Valley Water employees are teleworking presents additional challenges, but an internal working group of engineering, technical and human resources professionals have been meeting to address them.
With many staff living – and now working – throughout the county, it is possible during a PSPS some will be impacted and not have the power at home needed to continue working. In that scenario, we are developing a plan to safely bring prioritized staff back to Valley Water facilities to fulfill their essential work duties.
As managing the response to an emergency is typically handled from a centralized Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on the Valley Water campus, teleworking presents an additional challenge. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, however, our virtual EOC has been operating successfully since March. Emergency staff is well tested in operating remotely.
Following last year’s PSPS, Valley Water staff has worked to improve direct communication with PG&E to maintain a clear flow of information. We expect PSPS outage areas will be smaller and more geographically defined than last year, allowing our staff to respond in a more strategic and timely way.
While I feel it is important to assure our residents the ways Valley Water is prepared for a potential PSPS, I also want to encourage our community take steps yourselves to prepare your family and home in case there is an extended power outage.
PG&E has many useful tips and resources to help get your family or business ready for such an emergency. You can find answers to most of your questions, in many languages, on pge.com.
I also urge you to download the Santa Clara County Emergency Management AlertSCC and ReadySCC apps. These useful tools can help you prepare for disasters and receive timely notifications in case of an emergency.
As an essential service provider, Valley Water is committed to providing safe, clean water, flood protection and healthy creeks and ecosystems throughout Santa Clara County. Preparing to avoid any disruptions to these services has always been a priority. Faced with an unprecedented public health crisis, our employees have stepped up to ensure that, even during a global pandemic, historic heat waves and widespread fires, Valley Water will be here serving our community, as we have since 1929.