Hydro excavators help save time and money

Nate Thomas, left, and James Sauls use a hydro excavator to clear soil and debris from their work area.

New hydro excavator technology has improved the ability of City Light crews to clear soil and debris in preparation for construction – resulting in increased efficiency, lower costs and fewer errors.

Instead of using a metal augur, hydro excavators use high-pressure water jets and suction hoses to clear the area around poles and underground vaults, where water often gathers. The use of a water jet instead of a metal drill and shovels greatly reduces the risk of damaging other equipment that may be underground, such as gas, water, electric, sewer, or communications lines.

“We used to encounter unmarked utilities on a fairly regular basis,” explains Richard Moralez, Manager of Electrical Services and Construction at the City Light South Service Center. “The use of hydro excavators has helped us to avoid a lot of damage.”

Underground utility equipment is often decades old and unmarked, meaning crews frequently aren’t able to see it until it is too late. The result – in the past – was typically equipment damage that had to be repaired by City Light or other utilities.

Using a hydro excavator means any damage is minimal to nonexistent when crews encounter unforeseen underground equipment. The most common damage is only minor nicks from the suction tube. This vast improvement in technology saves the utility money and reduces construction times – meaning lower costs for our customer-owners.

There are several additional benefits to using hydro excavators. Water and debris are vacuumed up into a large capacity tank on the work truck, which can then easily be disposed of at City Light’s new decant facility. The decant facility pretreats the water and solids using a carbon filtration system, allowing for cost-effective disposal while complying with all federal, state and local environmental regulations.

If crews encounter contaminated soil on the job, they are able to localize and dispose of it at the South Service Center decant facility or other certified facilities. Samples of the material can be collected and identified, allowing the information to be shared with the rest of the city’s utilities, increasing safety and reducing costs.

Another important benefit is reduced wear and tear for crew members. Crews no longer need to clean and shovel dirt off of metal augurs and then hand-shovel dirt back into the area post-construction. Instead, they can use the much gentler and more effective hydro excavator to clear the work space, and then refill the area with clean backfill material from a separate dump truck. This has the added benefit of leaving the construction space with the best possible appearance when they leave the job, so that when a restoration crew comes in, there isn’t much left to clean up. Instead of needing three or four trucks in a fleet, crews may need only one truck to get the job done.

“The utility first started using hydro excavators periodically within the last 10 years, but has greatly increased its usage recently as we’ve found it to result in much lower incidences of damage,” said Moralez.

Although City Light is not liable for damage to unmarked utilities, it’s still an inconvenience to the customer who may go without cable, telephone, or water service during repairs.

“The real success story is the improved service to the customer,” Moralez said.

Expecting Osprey Parents Return

Success! The osprey pair enjoy their new deluxe accommodations, provided by Seattle City Light. Photo courtesy of Sound Transit’s Keith Sherry.


In February, Seattle City Light and Sound Transit teamed up to build an osprey tower with a nesting platform, in partnership with Osprey Solutions, LLC. The platform is on the southern edge of the Sound Transit Operation and Maintenance Facility near Spokane Street.

The nesting platform was an effort to prevent the birds from building their nest on power lines, which poses a danger to the birds and can cause outages for customers. The birds had been nesting for six years on a local cell phone tower, but an exclusion device had been installed to keep them from nesting there and disrupting service. Since the birds would likely come back and potentially nest on energized poles, Sound Transit and City Light worked together to install a safer and more attractive nesting site. The osprey tower is located on the corner of property owned by Alco Investments, which gave City Light easement to install the tower.

City Light is happy to report that the birds have moved in and are successfully nesting. The beautiful birds are expecting young and are thriving in their new nesting location near the Duwamish River.

“It looks like they are taking to the nest as hoped.  If they continue their nesting attempt, there should be nestlings in a couple of months,” said City Light Wildlife Biologist Ron Tressler, who oversaw the project.

This is just the latest effort by City Light to coexist with the birds so the utility doesn’t cause problems for them, and the birds don’t cause problems for the power supply.

City Light has put up nest deterrents and removed nests from dangerous locations over the years. When the birds start nesting on electrical equipment, it can be bad for customers and worse for the birds – especially if the nest gets wet from rain. An electrical short can ensue, causing power outages and killing the birds. City Light, Sound Transit and Osprey Solutions continue to work together to prevent these situations from occurring.

Retired Metro employee Pamela Paul got site approval for the new nesting platform and helped to make the project happen. She even collected and donated the nest sticks that were placed on the platform for the birds. Paul’s commitment to protecting the osprey is admired by City Light and the utility extends its thanks to her for her efforts.

Osprey photos courtesy of Pamela Paul.

Do you have new shots of the osprey? Please share them with us in the comments below.

City Light Finalizes RSJI Work Plan for 2014

City Light has finalized its Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) work plan for 2014. As part of its RSJI plan for the year, Seattle City Light will focus on the equity areas of education, equitable development, housing, jobs/economic justice, the environment, and service equity.

The work plan is part of a larger citywide effort to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all people, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. Seattle City Light is committed to removing the barriers that prevent all people from attaining the same access to opportunity in its hiring practices and customer service, as well as creating a community enriched by Seattle’s diverse cultures with full participation from all residents. City Light strives to implement outreach and engage with the public in a manner that reflects the diversity of the customers in its service area.

The city’s initiative is led by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights and various city staff, and is supported by all City of Seattle elected officials. More information about the initiative can be found on the city of Seattle’s RSJI website.

A few highlights from the Seattle City Light RSJI 2014 Work Plan include the following:

  • Seattle City Light will continue its efforts through the Powerful Neighborhoods program to reach seniors, non-English speaking households and low-income residents.  This program includes the direct installation of efficient lighting and water-saving showerheads in multifamily properties. Special emphasis is placed on outreach to affordable housing providers and their residents, with a goal of reaching at least 3,500 multifamily households.
  • City Light will partner with Seattle University to sponsor engineering projects for racially diverse teams of students to develop their skills, provide the opportunity to exhibit their work, and advance their education with real-life projects.
  • City Light’s 2014 goal is to reach 150 families with its HomeWise low-income weatherization program.
  • City Light will continue to partner with tribes in the implementation of cultural and natural resource protection and restoration in its work on the Boundary Project as well as the Skagit Project. In addition, the utility will assure communication on cultural resource issues as well as contracting opportunities are available for the Kalispel and Skagit River tribes.
  • In an effort to achieve equity in access to living wage jobs, City Light will increase opportunities for internships in the Seattle Youth Employment Program, as well as promote its Tuition Reimbursement Program and develop specific targets for closing any gaps in diversity in its workforce.
  • City Light is dedicated to building a workforce that reflects or exceeds the racial demographics of the communities it serves. In order to achieve that goal, the utility requires all staff members involved in hiring processes to be trained on Workforce Equity and Human Resources RSJI Best Practices. Furthermore, its 2014 plan includes deepening ties with diverse community and educational organizations to recruit interns and job candidates.
  • In addition, City Light actively seeks to work with Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUB) and Women and Minority-owned Businesses (WMBE).  Its RSJI 2014 Work Plan includes specific outreach event commitments, as well as target goals for spending on consulting and purchasing expenditures with these firms.
  • Seattle City Light is prioritizing streetlight upgrades in historically underserved areas such as the Holly Park SHA residential neighborhood in order to provide safer electrical systems and to ensure streets are well-lit at night.
  • The utility also provides free interpreter services for customers as well as offers translated printed information in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Somali, Tagalog, Korean and other languages commonly used among City Light customers. As part of the RSJI 2014 Work Plan, City Light will continue to host community meetings and focus groups designed for historically underrepresented communities, all of which are supported by interpretation and translation services.

City Light supports a number of other programs and initiatives designed to alleviate inequity including the Utility Discount Program and Project Share.

The Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative began in 2004. At the time, no other US city had so directly focused on institutional racism and working to improve racial equity. Seattle was the first city in the nation to explicitly focus on undoing institutional racism. Institutional racism is defined by the city of Seattle Office for Civil Rights as the policies, practices and procedures that often unintentionally or inadvertently work to the benefit of certain groups and to the detriment of others.

More information about Seattle City Light’s Race and Social Justice Initiative efforts can be found on our website. For more details about the City of Seattle’s efforts to achieve racial equity, please click here.

City Light: Community Conversation with Univisión Seattle

Univisión Seattle hosts Teresa Gonzalez (left) and Jaime Méndez (middle) sat down with Jorge Carrasco (right), CEO and General Manager of Seattle City Light for a discussion of the Strategic Plan Update.

City Light CEO and General Manager Jorge Carrasco met with Teresa Gonzalez and Jaime Méndez of Univisión Seattle (KUNS-TV) for a Community Conversation, or Conversación con la Comunidad. The 30-minute segment originally aired last Saturday, March 29.  The Community Conversation will re-air on Univisión Seattle on Channel 51 this Saturday, April 5 at 11 p.m.

The Spanish-language Community Conversation marks Carrasco’s first appearance on Univisión and represents City Light’s commitment to community involvement, a founding element of the Strategic Plan. As a special guest, Carrasco reached out to Spanish-speaking customers and shared important information about our programs and future goals.

The Strategic Plan is City Light’s guide for making informed decisions to meet the current and future needs of its customers.  The utility is including stakeholders from diverse communities across its service area in direct town hall conversations to gather community input, reflect current issues and incorporate any necessary adjustments to the plan.

Questions from the Univisión audience demonstrated the broad spectrum of interests in the Seattle Latino community. Audience members asked about City Light resources, how the utility is planning for the future and its commitment to sustainable energy. The audience listened carefully to what it means to have a hydroelectric-based utility with more than 90 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources. A young student in the audience also asked what young people can do to make a difference in reducing their electric bills.

Carrasco took the opportunity to highlight specific projects being undertaken to improve customer service. He also shared information about the Utility Discount Program, which can save income-eligible customers up to 60 percent on their electric bill. City Light also created a Spanish-language Utility Discount Program website for customers.

In its second year of the six-year Strategic Plan, City Light exceeded expectations and is ambitiously raising the bar for the years to come. By 2018 City Light plans to reduce baseline costs by an ongoing $18 million per year, aggressively improving its safety record, expanding community engagement and environmental leadership, and strengthening its ability to meet the growing electricity needs of the customers it serves.

Town hall sessions such as this one with Univisión lead to greater engagement and input from our community members and customers. City Light is currently planning additional outreach through Seattle’s Azteca America network. The utility also recently reached out through a number of meetings in various languages to discuss our Strategic Plan Update and get feedback from the community.

“Seattle City Light, the Nation’s Greenest Utility, is committed to responsible stewardship of our natural resources and our rate-payer dollars, and doing that successfully demands transparency and accountability,” said Carrasco. “This blueprint outlines our path forward and is also our report card to the community on how we are doing.”

To learn more, please visit the Seattle City Light Strategic Plan website.