The largest project ever for SLV Water District is underway, aiming to restore access to vital water sources

The pipeline shortly after the 2020 CZU
The pipeline shortly after the 2020 CZU fires.
(Via San Lorenzo Valley Water District)

A project to replace the major Peavine Raw Water Pipeline in the Santa Cruz Mountains has begun its early stages, and with a price tag that could hit $60 million, San Lorenzo Valley Water District engineer Josh Wolff says it’s slated to be the most expensive undertaking in the water district’s history.

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Very few parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains escaped devastation in August 2020, when the CZU Lightning Complex fires ripped through more than 86,000 acres of land in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. The flames destroyed nearly 1,500 buildings and damaged vital infrastructure, including the Peavine Raw Water Pipeline, which provides critical surface water — water from rivers, lakes, streams and reservoirs — to the San Lorenzo Valley Water District (SLVWD) supply.

Now, SLVWD, which serves Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, Brookdale and Felton, is beginning the work necessary to replace the surface water pipeline — the most expensive project ever for the water district, according to SLVWD engineer Josh Wolff.

The pipeline, when functioning, takes water from Peavine Creek, Clear Creek, Sweetwater Creek and Foreman Creek, and feeds the Lyon Treatment Plant in Boulder Creek. Wolff said nearly 24,000 people get their water from those sources, which have been inaccessible since the pipe’s destruction. Thankfully, he said, surface water was still available from Fall Creek in Felton or from wells in the Pasatiempo and Zayante areas, but that is far from an ideal solution.

(Via San Lorenzo Valley Water District)

“The more water we take from those wells, the more water we’re taking from the Santa Margarita aquifer, which also serves other communities like Scotts Valley, for example,” he said. Wolff explained that running wells is costlier, too, as they are operated by electrical pumps, whereas surface water is routed through pipes that don’t require pumping. “It’s more economical to use surface water.”

Wolff said the project has been in the works for about 2½ years now, and added that he has to consider many different aspects of an undertaking like this.

“It comes down to whether the pipe will be replaced in the same way it was originally built, will it be buried or given some kind of concrete structure to protect it,” he said, adding that the fire completely destroyed the pipeline.

Longer fire seasons and rough winters due to “weather whiplash” exemplify the need for better protection of crucial infrastructure. “We also look at the possibility of fires, landslides and fallen trees,” Wolff said, “to decide what’s best from an operational perspective, construction perspective, and what’s the safest.”

Depending on which route SLVWD chooses, costs could be as high as $60 million. The majority of the project’s cost will be covered by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursements.

At this point, Wolff said, crews are preparing to identify trees that pose safety hazards for workers and those that threaten to fall on the pipeline itself. They will likely be finished with tree removal by mid- to late June, but Wolff said it’s hard to say when the project will be completed. After tree clearing is finished, crews will survey the work site to determine the next step and the method of approach. Having started at SLVWD just after the fires, this is new to Wolff, too.

“We don’t even know what that next step is yet,” he said. “We have a couple of options, but we have to determine which of those will be the better choice.”

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