Impact of Public Safety Power Shutoffs on Water Operations

Utilities sustain water and wastewater services despite PSPS events to prevent fires.

Extreme fire and high-wind weather conditions spurred multiple power outages throughout northern California in October. Spanning multiple days, the public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events disrupted public health and public safety, even as they were implemented to prevent destructive fires due to failing electrical utility infrastructure.

When energy services are disrupted, how are water and wastewater utilities striving to ensure reliable services?

Here are a few insights from KISTERS clients:

  • Sonoma Water was subject to multiple PSPS events as well as the Kincade fire. It created a webpage with lists of instructions based on four situations during an power de-energization.

    “... Our headquarters were evacuated, so we had to relocate the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to Rohnert Park, which meant we were operating our SCADA system and rerouting our phones and emails remotely,” said Brad Sherwood, Community and Government Affairs Manager.

  • City of Santa Cruz Water Department faced two PSPS events. It was able to fill its tanks, maximizing storage, and use backup generators for impacted facilities. No disruption in service occurred -- despite the longer outage clocking in at 40 hours, nearly two full days. Customers, even those unaffected by PSPS, were asked to curtail water use to minimize strain on the network.

    “The real concern (begins after) 48 hours because we are located in an isolated county, (where) extended fuel could become an issue,” said Chris Coburn, Deputy Director/Operations Manager. Santa Cruz Water estimates that each PSPS event in October cost roughly $25,000 in fuel alone.

  • San Francisco PUC did not anticipate its Bay Area customers to experience service interruptions due to PG&E's planned outages. Nonetheless, a dedicated website was created to educate the public and proactively address concerns. It clearly explained its contingency plans to ensure water, wastewater and power services operate as normal, in addition to raising awareness of PG&E's disruptions and rationale.

Water districts emphasize customer communication is key. Multiple reminders to conserve water lessens the load on backup generators and reduces the odds of system failures.