Bay Area water agencies upgrading infrastructure in anticipation of catastrophic earthquake

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Water agencies, once worried only about their own supplies and territories, now embrace mutual aid, especially for earthquakes and droughts.

East Bay Municipal Utility District is constantly evaluating all kinds of new water main and pipe design and materials for flexibility and reliability whether made of steel, cast iron, cement or plastic.

David Katzev of East Bay MUD tells KTVU "And not only do we have the Hayward Fault, we have landslides, we have liquefaction zones, we have to put pipe in the ground that's seismic resilient."

As pipelines age, East Bay MUD is extending many of their lives by putting a remarkable fabric-like inner lining system.

It's threaded through the existing pipe, then inflated by hot water that hardens and bonds creating a new inner pipe.

East Bay MUD is installing miles and miles of new strong and flexible pipe.

"We think that maximum earthquake will result in in seven feet of offset, which means a seven foot slip" says Richard Sykes of East Bay MUD.

At South Reservoir in Castro Valley, a bit of a surprise: downsizing.

Inside what was once a 50 million gallon covered reservoir, East Bay MUD is building an 8 million gallon steel reinforced concrete tank, 40 feet high and 200 feet across.

It can resist a 7.0 earthquake on the Hayward Fault, the highest that fault is likely to produce.

"All our pipelines in this infrastructure is running through that zone," say Sykes.

In Hayward, several water agencies share what's called an intertie.

Here, pipelines from multiple suppliers meet.

If needed in an emergency or drought, high powered pumps and valves can redirect water from one agency to another.

"Helping each other out in an emergency is really important. So, it really helps the reliability of everybody around the south end of the Bay," says Steve Ritchie of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

A 42-inch wide pipe extends over the Hayward Fault, which could rip apart in a major earthquake. 

But on either end, there are ball joints and shock absorbers that allow the pipe to move as the earth shakes.

The idea is that in a major quake, this pipe should survive.

"The number of pipelines that we've retrofitted are 15. That's at 13 separate locations," says Bob Shaver of the Alameda County Water District.

In Fremont, directly over the Hayward Fault, lie three main water pipelines, that bring Hetch Hetchy water to much of the Bay Area.

Should the Hayward Fault destroy any or all of these pipelines, crews would hook up alternative pipelines between diverter valves to keep the water flowing.

In Milpitas, another intertie not only connects water agencies to each other, but provides some additional benefits.

"It's a physical intertie, but it also creates a relationship with those other agencies," says John Cook with the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

Finally at a San Jose Water District treatment plant, the District has invested as much as $60 million to strengthen its facilities and pipelines against major earthquakes.

"Nobody wants a rate increase, but you have to invest in infrastructure and we do," says Richard Santos, the Santa Clara Water District Chairman.

Though rate payers everywhere grumble about water rates, the seismic alternative is far, far more expensive and often deadly.