On Halloween-eve, SMWD customers on a quiet cul-de-sac in Coto de Caza got an untimely "trick"—a broken wastewater pipeline. SMWD responded quickly to stave off damage to the neighborhood and surrounding creeks. An automated alarm alerted crews to report to the South Ranch Lift Station when they noticed the wet ground, they knew immediately to take steps to address what turned out to be a pressurized wastewater pipeline break. Within half an hour 20 employees were on site, prepared to work as long as necessary to make whatever repairs were required. Neighbors watched from their front doors and driveways as crews moved through the well-orchestrated emergency response. Onsite crews immediately stopped the pumps and closed the valve to isolate the damaged pipe, others began digging some five feet underground to find the break, while others placed sandbags strategically to protect the nearby creek. Six enormous vacuum trucks rolled in and out of the neighborhood for over five hours transporting wastewater to a downstream part of the system to keep wastewater services flowing for the community. Friends from other water districts including Irvine Ranch, Moulton Niguel, and Trabuco Canyon worked side by side with SMWD crews the entire evening, each with a vacuum truck to help transport wastewater. Engineers arrived on the scene to evaluate the impact and begin planning the recovery and repairs while the SMWD communications team knocked on doors to talk with neighbors and keep them informed. SMWD has a sophisticated monitoring system that allows around the clock monitoring of its drinking water, recycled water, and wastewater infrastructure. The Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system alerts employees when a system is not operating within its programmed limits - pressure or power is lost, or water levels are low—and allows for immediate action remotely. Over 150 facilities and 1,600 miles of pipeline are digitally mapped in a system called a Geographic Information System (GIS). These two technologies allowed supervisors and managers to begin moving on the response the minute they received the call on Saturday afternoon.
A lift station is a critical piece of infrastructure that moves wastewater between elevations throughout our hilly south OC topography. The South Ranch Lift Station houses two pumps that push the water into a pressurized pipeline called a force main which then converts to a gravity pipeline which carries the wastewater off to the treatment plant located in nearby Rancho Mission Viejo. This lift station was built in 1998 and undergoing $1.6 million in upgrades including new pumps and a surge tank as part of the district's Capital Replacement Program. While the pipeline break was not caused by the recent construction, it is a good example of why this facility is being upgraded. Neighbors expressed appreciation for the quick response by both the crews and the outreach team that provided information on the status of the repairs and the on-going upgrade to the system.
Repairs on the break will be completed by Monday, November 8. The upgrades to the lift station are expected to be complete in January of 2022.
Resources About the Leak on October 30, 2021
Video of the Response
About the Sewer Spill
Letter to the Residents of Lyra Way