Oxnard – The Public Works & Transportation Committee took a virtual tour of the city’s water campus on Tuesday, July 12, and was impressed.
As the Covid-19 crisis reached its peak, Water staff halted their tours and educational offerings to schools and the community to help stem the spread of the pandemic.
Omar Castro, head of the water department, said the water department has implemented contactless curbside pickup to help customers conserve water and save money.
“Water workers have made a commitment to the city council to develop a virtual tour of the water department,” he said. “The Water Division worked with Serial Creative Group to create the tour and receiving this report has had no financial impact.”
He said the city takes raw water from the area, purifies it to drinking water standards, and distributes it to customers.
“The process might sound simple enough, but it actually takes a lot of science, physics, chemistry, engineering knowledge and mechanical skills to give you these essential resources,” he said. “Oxnard City Council recognized early on that the city needed a game plan to always ensure we had a safe and reliable source of drinking water. Especially given the major challenges caused by water consumption, repeated droughts, climate change and other environmental factors.”
Castro noted that the city’s highly trained staff and board-certified technicians and operators are available 24/7 and provide customers with quality service, which he said was a top priority.
Water Resources Manager Abraham Maldonado manages the Water Division’s 25 million gallon water supply, which serves more than 200,000 Oxnard residents, along with nearby schools, parks, hospitals and some agricultural customers.
“To meet all of these requirements, Oxnard gets its raw water supply from a variety of sources,” he said. “Some of our imported surface water comes from snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada mountains of northern California.”
He said the water travels more than 500 miles through the State Water Project’s engineered reservoirs, pipes, wells and other infrastructure.
“This precious water supply is shared by millions of people in California,” he said. “The amount we get is limited and very expensive. Our other water sources are from local aquifers which are pumped from the naturally occurring aquifers in Oxnard and surrounding areas. This groundwater is managed locally, so it is easier to manage and less expensive than imported water.”
Maldonado said the water is a limited source and is regulated, which governs the amount of water pumped out of the Oxnard Basin.
“The imported water source is mixed with local groundwater supplies to ensure a safe and reliable water supply,” he said.
Operations Manager Chris Payton said the highly trained and certified staff ensures the groundwater control streams and treatments are properly mixed.
“Some of the groundwater that we pump from the local aquifer is very rich in minerals and salts after the groundwater is pumped from the wells,” he said. “After the groundwater has been pumped out of the well, it is pre-treated and fed to the groundwater desalinator. The desalinator uses reverse osmosis to produce ultrapure water, which is then mixed with other water sources in the city.”
After additional treatment and disinfection, he said, the water is extensively tested and sampled.
Richard Maria, Water Regulatory Compliance Manager, told viewers the team ensures Oxnard’s drinking water meets and exceeds all state and local drinking water regulations.
“Many of the regulations that we have to follow are actually stricter than those for bottled water,” he said. “We conduct more than 3,700 water tests each year for approximately 300 different constituents and are required to report this information to the State Water Board’s Drinking Water Division. The tests are carried out by a combination of internal and external laboratories.”
He said the water department is required to provide an annual water quality report in accordance with federal and state regulations, which is available on the city’s website.
John Hammons, Senior Water Distribution, said the team ensures Oxnard is delivering quality drinking water from its treatment facilities through its distribution system and provides 24-hour emergency response for customer shutdowns, leaks, water main bursts and other emergencies.
“We also install, service and replace lines, valves, pumps and other vital equipment,” he said. “Maintenance is important because it helps keep our equipment and infrastructure working well and longer.”
Senior Meter Reader Melissa Slate said the metering staff reads and records the monthly water usage of over 40,000 customers.
“The information captured by our automated meter reading system is used for utility billing and can help you monitor your own water usage,” she said. “It’s also one of the many tools that help the city comply with state water conservation mandates.”
Additionally, she said the meter reading team is responsible for customer calls about leaks, historical water usage, or other customer concerns.
Meagan Schneider, Water Conservation and Outreach Supervisors, said everyone is helping the city meet its water challenges in the future.
“Managing water is one of the best ways to ensure we have enough water to meet our basic needs,” she said. “Your ongoing efforts, such as For example, taking shorter showers and replacing older appliances with high-efficiency models, checking and fixing leaks, and creating California gardens all go a long way toward conserving water.”
After the video, committee member Vianey Lopez said it was great to see the presentation.
“I’m glad we got to play it here today because there are a lot more people who can benefit from it,” she said. “I think this video touches on the basics of water, which is so important, especially now that we’re trying to economize on our consumption and be more careful. I hope more people can watch it (the video) and if there are other educational opportunities to continue informing and educating our residents about the work of the Water Department and the work of Public Works as a whole. These are the parts that help keep the city running.”
Committee member Mayor John Zaragoza called it a great video and wanted to know if the video was available in Spanish.
“We’re putting the subtitles in Spanish so that our Spanish speakers can understand it while we play the video,” Castro said.
Zaragoza noted that the city of Oxnard’s water is safer than bottled water, and Castro said their water regulations are stricter.
“I drink tap water all the time and I’m still fine,” said Zaragoza. “I’ve been in Oxnard my whole life.”
He noted that mixed water along with United’s water is important because of the cost.
“It’s almost $2,000 an acre foot for Callegua and maybe another $1,000 for United,” he said.
Castro said state water costs about $1,380 per acre foot.
“United costs around $1,200,” he said. “Our cheapest water, our water, is about $700 an acre foot.”
Chairman Bert Perello said people who have come from other counties know that drinking tap water can be a little risky and are buying water from a vending machine.
“You better use the tap water in the town of Oxnard,” he said. “It’s perfectly safe, above minimum standards. One day the water we treat at the reclaimed site, which is cleaner and purer than tap water, will be potable.”
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