Los Altos Hills residents who’ve experienced a progressive increase in their water bills since 2018 will soon witness the physical manifestation of those funds with the installation of new pipes along Taaffe, Elena, Moody and Old Snakey roads.
Workers are scheduled to start mapping existing utilities along the streets this week; actual construction on this first phase of the Purissima Hills Water District’s $18 million capital improvement project is slated to begin Tuesday.
“It’s going to be disruptive, and so we’ll just minimize disruption to the extent we can and get the project done as quickly as possible,” said Peter Evans, a Hills resident and president of the water district’s board of directors.
Construction will start at the intersection of Taaffe and Elena roads and progress east at approximately 250 feet per day. While traffic on Elena and Moody will be reduced to a single lane, Taaffe, a major artery in and out of town, will be closed during the day. Residents of the street will be able to access their homes and emergency vehicles may pass freely, but through traffic will be diverted. The target end date of the construction is Oct. 31.
The water district serves two-thirds of Hills residents and some unincorporated Santa Clara County residents with Hetch Hetchy Reservoir water supplied by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Phase one of the district’s capital improvement project will complete its north-south water system “backbone” by replacing 9,000 linear feet of brittle, 8-inch pipe from the 1960s with more seismically resilient, 12-inch pipe for ensuring adequate fire-hydrant flow following an earthquake.
“I don’t have any question as a board member, knowing this system, that this is a very critical project for us to complete,” Evans said.
The water district board voted unanimously in October 2018 to increase both customers’ monthly water consumption and readiness-to-serve charges gradually over three years to raise $5 million for the capital improvement project. The last round of those rate increases starts July 1 and will be reflected in August bills.
In January, the district secured an additional $8 million through a 15-year loan offered at a 2.16% interest rate. Together, the $13 million is expected to cover the Taaffe/Elena/Moody/Old Snakey phase, a second phase involving the replacement of 4,600 linear feet of leak-prone pipe along Concepcion Road in 2021 and possibly a third phase that has yet to be identified.
If the economy continues to lag, the money could stretch further, explained Joubin Pakpour, district engineer.
“If the economy is not as robust as it was, we may get really attractive bids – ‘attractive’ being low bids from contractors,” he said. “If that happens, then we can push out even more construction projects.”
A total of 20 miles of water pipes require proactive replacing across the district. District management has identified an $18 million program to replace the most critical sections over 10 years, but it would cover less than half of the needed work, according to the district’s spring 2020 newsletter.
“To address the remaining half of the aging pipelines, we could use future rate increases, borrowing, or both,” wrote district director Steve Jordan in the newsletter.
Concerns about following COVID-19 protocols delayed phase one’s start by a few weeks while the water district ensured contractor Teichert Energy and Utilities Group of Sacramento is aware of Santa Clara County’s current rules for construction; workers must wear face masks on-site and are required to practice social distancing to the best of their abilities.
And though the pandemic lockdowns mean less traffic to contend with, the district is cognizant of other ways the construction may negatively impact residents.
“We’re trying to minimize the disruptions the best we can to folks who are working from home and taking care of their kids,” Pakpour said. “People are already on edge, so to speak, so we don’t want to add any more aggravation. But it’s such a critical project for us that we want to make sure it’s in the ground before any kind of earthquake happens.”
A full-time inspector will be on-site and available to meet with any residents, he added.
For construction updates and detour directions, visit purissimawater.org/constructionnews.html.