Cuesta College works to patch leaky pools

Chuck Elisarraras of All Private Utility Locating uses an acoustic listening device near the edge of the Cuesta College pool as he searches for a leak.
Chuck Elisarraras of All Private Utility Locating uses an acoustic listening device near the edge of the Cuesta College pool as he searches for a leak.

With California in its fourth year of drought, Cuesta College is keeping its two leaky pools open at the San Luis Obispo campus while also embarking on repair projects to address some of the problems.

College officials acknowledge that the pools — a 50-meter lap pool and a training pool — are leaking. They plan to make some fixes this month, followed by a major repair job scheduled for this winter.

The pools, which hold 650,000 gallons and 60,000 gallons, respectively, lose about 13,000 gallons of water a day, according to Terry Reece, Cuesta’s director of facilities and capital projects.

The water loss can’t be attributed to leaks alone, Reece said, because evaporation, cleaning and maintenance also account for some of the loss.

About 3,000 gallons of water evaporates each day, Reece said. The pools are covered at night and when not in use.

College officials were not able to say how much is lost through leakage alone.

Eventually, both pools will be replaced using funds from Measure L, Cuesta’s successful $275 million bond measure.

“This pool is 35 years old so it’s not anything new,” Cuesta College President Gil Stork said Friday. “That’s why it was one of the high-priority items in our bond. We’ve been patching and repairing for 20 years.”

Stork said he’s been asked why Cuesta doesn’t close the pools, which are used by college students, Morro Bay High School for its programs, and San Luis Obispo County residents through fee-based programs including aqua fitness, water polo and swimming lessons.

“It’s a critical facility not only for athletic programs but also a critical facility for community use,” Stork said.

Earlier this week, a contractor scanned the pool decks with sonar-testing equipment to determine whether any pipes were leaking, college officials said.

Repairs on any leaks detected will likely start next week, though information was not immediately available on how many problems were found.

The pools were built of coated aluminum in 1978 at a cost of $1 million, but corrosion problems plagued them for years, according to past Telegram-Tribune articles.

In 1985, college trustees ordered the pools closed for three weeks to temporarily patch then up, and then embarked on a lengthy renovation project in July 1988 to replace damage to the aluminum shell and pipes.

That year, the college also settled a lawsuit with the maker of its pools for $290,000 in damages, which went toward the repair project.

After Cuesta College’s water polo program ends in November, the college will embark on a comprehensive repair project, including new gutters, lights and liners.

“The liner is 20 years old,” Reece said. “The lifespan of a liner like that is 10 years.”

At the same time, Cuesta College has been trying to reduce its water use to comply with Gov. Jerry Brown’s April 1 executive order requiring a 25 percent reduction in water use statewide compared to 2013 usage.

To try to meet the cut, Cuesta College has removed seven lawns so far from the San Luis Obispo campus and cut back on watering other areas.

In 2013, the 150-acre San Luis Obispo campus used about 130 acre-feet of water a year, or about 42.4 million gallons (an acre-foot of water is equal to 325,850 gallons).

In 2014 that campus used closer to 118 acre-feet of water, or about 38.5 million gallons, he said.

That amounts to a 9 percent water savings in 2014 compared to 2013.

But so far this year, Cuesta College has not seen similar savings.

Reece said water use has been higher in 2015 as compared to the previous year, in part because of two water line breaks in March and an increase in irrigation that same month when the area experienced above averages temperatures after a dry winter.

Brown’s order went into effect the following month, and Cuesta College put drought reductions measures in place that May.

Water use numbers at the campus so far this year were not immediately available.

“We know we’re leaking water,” Reece said. “We’re trying to reduce the leaks as much as possible.”