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Tustin’s Simon Ranch Reservoir
and Pump Station Replacement Project
A Recap of OCWA’s October 2021 Industry Insight Presentation

By Tim Hogan
OCWA Communications

There are times when the simplest solution to a tight situation is to simply buy your way out. It doesn’t often present that way in a public utility project, but when it does, the benefits can be overwhelmingly persuasive.

Such was the case when Michael Grisso, City of Tustin’s Water Services Manager, joined OCWA for its October webinar to discuss the Simon Ranch Reservoir and Pump Station Replacement Project. Accompanied by Joseph C. Blum, Sr. Project Manager, Butier Engineering, Inc., the two discussed at length the unique circumstances they overcame while upgrading the aged infrastructure.

Their presentation was underwritten, in part, by three of our Corporate Sponsors for 2021: DUDEK, Ninyo & Moore, and Peterson Structural Engineers. And the over 100 people who signed up for the webinar were strong testament to the interest in the topic among the Orange County water community.

The speakers were introduced by OCWA President Ryan Gallagher, who modestly identified the City of Tustin as one of the greatest cities in Orange County, and arguably in the State as well. Ryan’s position as a Tustin City Councilmember was, of course, merely coincidental to his effusive praise of the City.

Originally constructed in the early 1960s by Tustin Water Works, the private company precursor to the incorporated City of Tustin’s Water Services Department, the Simon Ranch Pump Station sits on a 0.29 acre parcel in the middle of an upscale neighborhood in the northern part of the City. The renovation plans called for a new 1 MG reservoir, over 4,000 new linear feet of pipeline, and a 3,000 GPM booster pump. Along with a 500kW backup generator, the upgrade promised to both ensure the neighborhood’s water supply while at the same time vastly improve the flow of water for firefighting.

To pull this all together, the City partnered with four corporations to complete the project. Butier Engineering functioned throughout as both program and construction manager, while Tetra Tech designed the reservoir and AKM Consulting engineered the design of the booster pump station and the new pipelines. The general contractor responsible for building it all was Pacific Hydrotech Corporation.

From before the start there were complications. Neighbors in the surrounding community expressed concerns about noise, dust, and traffic, as well as the potential for it to be an eyesore. The City moved quickly to get out ahead of these concerns. Flyers were sent out, meetings were scheduled, and water department personnel ‘knocked and talked’ with the residents, all with the intent to drive the story home. And the community was convinced. They all got on board when they saw how much it would improve the value of their homes while it served to protect their property. And the new, improved aesthetics incorporated into the location, how it would better blend into the neighborhood, was the proverbial ‘icing on the cake.’

There were still numerous construction issues to overcome. Because the existing reservoir was built 30 feet below ground, and construction would take place within a dozen feet of two homes, there was a need for substantial shoring both to keep the work site clear and to protect those adjacent residences. Unfortunately, a 15 foot easement was needed from those homes which were only 12 feet away.

After considerable discussion, the City found it had three options: 1) they could negotiate temporary construction easements with the two homes immediately adjacent to the property, 2) lease both properties and move the residents out during construction, or 3) purchase both properties outright.

Throughout, the residents remained steadfast: They did not want to be disturbed. And as the City considered its options, leasing or buying the properties became the best approach. The possible benefits were manyfold: site access, staging, and working room would all be improved, the safety of the environment would increase, use of the homes for construction offices would be possible, and there’d be a substantial savings in overall shoring and construction costs.

In the end, option 3, to purchase the homes outright, long considered the “grandiose plan,” proved the wisest course, for it minimized the risk of litigation from the property owners. And given the value of the homes, their proximity to the site, and the very narrow easements overall, there was definitely a possibility of legal action somewhere down the line.

A careful cost/benefit analysis provided the impetus for the City Council to approve the plans. Between the two properties, there was a potential savings of over $1.18 million if both homes were purchased. And this did not include the peace of mind gained from the eliminated likelihood of costly legal actions.

Presented with all this, the Tustin City Council authorized $3.75 million to acquire the two homes. Conditioned, of course, on the homes being resold when the project was complete.

After all this, the reservoir was completed, on time and within budget. And because of revised techniques of construction, the booster pump station, which had been situated a few blocks off-site, was able to be installed next to the reservoir, and with far better access points than the old vault model had had before. With the landscaping completed, and the new facades that better blend with the local architecture, the community is exceptionally pleased with the finished project.

Another instance of the value of a well-managed plan, made especially true when all parties have full buy-in to the project.

•    •     •

OCWA was proud to host this very informative talk by Michael Grisso and Joe Blum. Building on a year of exceptionally well-received Industry Insight presentations, they helped continue the year’s string of well-received programs. This is in keeping with the Board of Director’s commitment to provide quality, timely information for the Association’s members.

For those interested, a PDF of the PowerPoint presentation is available for download by OCWA’s members only. Yet another great reason to consider becoming a member if you aren’t one already.

November’s Industry Insight promises to be equally enlightening. Fallbrook Public Utility District’s General Manager, Jack Bebee, will discuss The End to One of the Oldest Water Supply Conflicts in California: A Brief History of the Santa Margarita Conjunctive Use Project.

Register Now to Ensure You Don’t Forget!
OCWA Members: Free. Non Members: $10.00

So plan now to join us, November 17. You’ll want to hear this fascinating tale. For though its roots are well in the distant past, its implications for the future are instructive.

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