How San Jose Water Maintains Service for 1 Million Customers During PG&E Power Shutoffs

December 19, 2019

As one of the largest and most sophisticated water systems in the United States, San Jose Water Company is proud to provide water to more than one million customers across 140 square miles in San Jose, California. To keep the water flowing, the utilities company maintains over 100 water tanks spread out across Los Gatos, Saratoga, San Jose, and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

For years, San Jose Water has used Samsara’s Remote Monitoring Solution to gain visibility into the efficiency of their water operations. In order to prevent water shortages, tank levels need to be tracked and refilled as water is used throughout the day. To fill them back up, electrically powered pumps then pump water back into the tanks until they are at an acceptable level.

But when Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) precautionary public safety power shut-offs interrupted their power source this fall, San Jose Water’s Operations team faced a huge operational challenge: how to power their more than 300 water pumps—and thereby maintain water service for customers—without access to grid power. How did they do it? Samsara Asset Gateways played a critical role in the solution.

The power of portable generators

In case of emergencies, such as power outages or earthquakes, San Jose Water maintains 38 permanent generators and 21 portable generators that act as a backup power source to keep their water pumps running. These generators—which range between 10 to 20 feet long—run on diesel fuel and require trailer transport between locations.

“During blackouts, portable generators power our entire station. When we hook them up to our stations, we get communication back, we can see tank levels and statuses, and we can control everything remotely again,” said Operations Supervisor Blake Chetcuti.  

In order to provide backup power to their different facilities that don’t have permanent generators, San Jose Water keeps their generators dispersed across their service area—21 portable generators across 60 facilities. Before Samsara, San Jose Water tracked the generators manually using paper and spreadsheets. This made generators difficult to find and prevented the operations team from remotely tracking locations, critical fuel levels, and maintenance diagnostics. And when they needed the generators most—like during a blackout—they faced a complex logistical challenge of getting the generators to the right site without reliable data about location and fuel.

Using Samsara Asset Gateways to track generator locations and fuel levels

More recently, San Jose Water deployed Samsara Asset Gateways (AGs) on each of their generators, providing real-time GPS locations and fuel information about these critical assets. 

So when PG&E cut power to their facilities, the operations team relied on the generator location data from the AGs to strategically dispatch and route the limited number of generators from site to site. Then at each site, the generator powered the pump to top off the site’s water level.  

“Samsara has allowed us to quickly and easily track generator locations during emergencies when we are juggling multiple challenges at the same time,” said Chetcuti. 

If routing these generators wasn’t hard enough, they also require constant refueling. The team also closely monitored fuel level data to ensure that the generators themselves had enough fuel to power the pump stations. 

Once Chetcuti and his team knew which generators needed fuel, they efficiently dispatched a third-party fuel provider to travel between the sites and refuel the generators. By leveraging the Samsara Fuel Reports and Live Sharing Links, Chetcuti’s team kept their operation running and avoided potential service interruptions for all million of their customers during both blackouts. 

Above and beyond service 

A lot happens behind the scenes to ensure we all get our water. From the operations team ensuring that all of the water pumps are functioning, to the many other teams that make sure each customer gets their water, maintaining this life-sustaining utility is a massively complex operation.

Through their partnership with Samsara and their ingenuity, Chetcuti’s team was able to restore their baseline power and keep their operation running, which upheld their stellar reputation as a customer-first company. 

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