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Poway prepares to overhaul water system in wake of 2019 contamination crisis

Poway water boil advisory 12 1 19
Posted at 5:43 PM, Jun 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-09 20:43:53-04

POWAY, Calif. (KGTV) — Poway is getting close to beginning the long-anticipated overhaul of its water system, following a 2019 crisis when the city's water supply was contaminated by stormwater.

“It’s the largest capital improvement program the City of Poway has ever undertaken," Shadi Sami, a city engineer helping oversee the project, told ABC 10News.

Currently, Poway gets its water from one source. Untreated water comes in from the San Diego County Water Authority, gets stored in Lake Poway, then goes to Poway's water treatment plant and is stored in a clear well, before being distributed to residents and businesses. Following a storm in 2019, a valve that should not have been open allowed contaminated water into that clear well. With no other source of water, residents were under a boil water order for several days.

The new project will replace the clear well and add a second tank, meaning if one needs to be drained for problems or maintenance, the other one can remain online. In addition, a new connection will be built that will allow Poway to import treated water when needed.

"For residents today and generations to follow, it’s going to have a very positive impact," Sami said. "It’s going to provide them with safe and reliable water for decades.”

The project is estimated to cost around $70 million. Critics of the city's handling of the crisis and the water supply say they do not trust the current city council with such an expensive project.

“This should have been done a long time ago, very much. And it’s costing us more now," said Poway resident Chris Cruse.

Poway City Councilmember Caylin Frank points out that many aspects of the project were in development before the crisis.

“I think the biggest challenge for us is telling our story and giving folks the information they need to understand why we’re doing this and that it goes so far beyond what happened a few years ago," she told ABC 10News. “Councils in the past, I think, have kicked the can down the road a little bit. And finally, our mayor and this council is taking the step to make it happen.”

While the plan to pay for the project has not been finalized, Frank says she believes the best way is to spread the cost to residents over a span of decades, since the improvements are expected to benefit the city for generations.

The city is currently taking bids for the project. The contract is expected to be awarded in July, with work on a five-year timeline slated to begin in September.