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http://www.vny.com/cf/News/upidetail.cfm?QID=186407 Wednesday, 16 May 2001 20:19 (ET)
California water systems fret blackouts
By HIL ANDERSON UPI Chief Energy Correspondent
LOS ANGELES, May 16 (UPI) -- Health officials in California sent out an advisory this week urging the operators of the state's water systems to prepare for the rolling blackouts that are considered a near certainty this summer.
According to the Sacramento Bee, the Department of Health Services told the nearly 9,000 public water systems in the state that they should have backup power and emergency sources of water as soon as possible. Water is one of several sectors that have been seeking exemptions from rolling blackouts on the grounds they provide vital services.
The advisory, which was not immediately made public, came on the heels of a warning issued Monday by the Association of California Water Associations urging water systems be exempt from outages because they are vital to public safety.
"Our members distribute about 90 percent of the delivered water in California and for many, rotating outages present significant concerns relative to public health and safety and the public welfare," said Dan Smith, the ACWA's director of regulatory affairs.
Water systems depend on electricity to run pumps and water and sewage treatment machinery, however the state's Public Utilities Commission has thus far not listed them among the essential services that are exempted from rolling outages.
According to the association, a loss of power could cause sewer backups and pressure drops in the water mains, which could allow bacteria and sediment to infiltrate and contaminate the drinking water; fire hydrants would be left without water as well.
"If firefighting, telecommunications, power production and other sectors are exempted from blackouts, then those who provide the necessary water for those services should likewise be exempted," the ACWA insisted in its statement.
Along with hospitals, police and fire departments, there have been exemptions sought for oil refineries, airlines, agriculture, theme parks and the inland communities where a loss of air conditioning on a sweltering day is no small matter. Critics of some of the private company exemptions warn that allowing some of them to avoid blackouts and not others is difficult to justify and places more burden on the residential electricity customers.
In the meantime, reaction to Tuesday's approval by the PUC of a new $5.7 billion rate-increase plan for customers of Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California continued to run largely negative. "The PUC's decision to increase the rates that hospitals pay for electricity comes at a time when two-thirds of the hospitals in California are already operating in the red," declared association president C. Duane Dauner. "California's health care system is nearing a financial meltdown."
The electricity crunch also continued to squeeze the aluminum industry in the Pacific Northwest. Alcoa announced Wednesday that it was immediately idling its smelting plant in Ferndale, Washington and turning its allotment of electricity through September back to the Bonneville Power Administration. The proceeds of the deal will be used to pay the 900 employees of the plant; the facility had been scheduled to produce 115,000 metric tons of aluminum this year.
"While this agreement is not our preferred outcome, it is more advantageous to employees, communities and shareholders than the long-term closures we would have experienced under Bonneville's blended-rate approach," said Alcoa Vice President Al Renken. "We still find it unacceptable as public policy that the aluminum industry has been asked by BPA to shutter its facilities, thus carrying a disproportional cost, while other customers are being asked only to reduce their usage by 5-10 percent."
Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.
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