Contractors must keep abreast of current news in their industry across the U.S., and the IAPMO’s Vice President of Government Relations Dain Hansen tries to help you stay in the loop each week. This week, Hansen looked at how water conservation is working in California, some plumbing problems in Portland and President Barack Obama’s proposal for free college.
State increases water conservation but still fall
After two months in a row of declining conservation, Californians are doing better at saving water, but they remain far short of a goal set by Gov. Jerry Brown last January.
Statewide, residents cut water use by 9.8 percent in November, compared with November 2013, according to new state figures released Tuesday. Last January, in declaring a drought emergency, the governor asked Californians to voluntarily cut their water use by 20 percent.
Many parts of the state are at or near that goal now. But huge regional differences remain. Residents of the South Coast region -- essentially Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties -- cut water use by only 3.2 percent in November, while the Bay Area and Sacramento reduced water use by 18 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Some Southern California water leaders have begun to try to put the best face on the numbers.
Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, notes that Southern California has expanded local water supplies with new reservoirs, desalination and water recycling since the last big drought from 1987 to 1992. And despite adding 5 million residents since then, overall water demand is 20 percent less, he noted. Still, some experts say far more can be done.
"The message in the southern part of the state has been, 'We're in pretty good shape. We are doing better than everybody else,'" said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit water research organization in Oakland. "But that message has confused people. It should be, 'We're moving in the right direction, but we need to do more.'"
This week, President Obama unveiled a proposal aimed at providing two years of community college for those willing to meet certain minimum requirements. Under the proposal, the federal government would cover three-quarters of community college tuition and the states would pick up the remainder.
The White House stated that the proposal would cost about $60 billion over 10 years. However, the administration has not disclosed what pay-fors it would suggest. This will certainly be met with heavy criticism until the White House can provide explanations of how the cost for this program will be covered.
Plumbing problems center of federal lawsuit in Oregon
Homeowners in a downtown Portland condo tower are seeking $2 million plus punitive damages from a plumbing parts supplier. The condo association at Benson Tower is one of four that have sued Victaulic Co. of Pennsylvania over disintegrating rubber parts in valves and connectors. Identical parts were used in many condo buildings in the 2000s.
At issue in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Oregon is whether chemicals used to disinfect water in Portland cause the parts to prematurely degrade, causing leaks and sending bits of rubber into the towers' drinking water. Residents of the buildings say Victaulic knew its rubber was susceptible to disinfectants in the water, but continued to sell the parts anyway.
"I am not going to have peace of mind until and unless these products are removed," Katherine Lorenz, an assistant U.S. attorney who lives in Benson Tower, told a jury Tuesday. "I believe all these products should be replaced and that Victaulic should pay for it.”
“Victaulic acknowledges the rubber parts were falling apart but has argued the failure is because of flaws in the building's plumbing system. The system itself has to be properly designed, properly installed and properly operated," said Anne Cohen, Victaulic's attorney. Arguments in the case are expected to continue through next week.
Missouri town takes steps to rid its water system of chlorine
City Council members in Farmington, Missouri had only one agenda item this week to discuss—test results from the chlorination of the city’s water supply. Results from testing taken on December 29 indicated the 45-day chlorination of the city’s water system seemed to clear the water supply of bacteria.
The challenge from this point on, said City Administrator Greg Beavers, is to make sure steps are taken to prevent any bacteria from returning.
“We have taken some steps to increase the flushing of dead-end mains around the city. We have checked the current status of the all the backflow preventers and our fire suppression systems,” Beavers explained. “We have done everything we can.”
The city’s goal is for the supply to remain bacteria-free for 12 months to prevent permanent chlorination of the water supply. Farmington is the largest municipal water system in the state that does not chlorinate the water.
“All we can do now is cross our fingers and operate this system as cleanly and as best we can,” he said.