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Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s 2020 WaterSmart Landscape Contest winner Laura Lisauskas redid her family’s street-facing sloped side yard. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Protect Your Hillsides and Slopes 

San Diego County features many native canyons, and many homes are located in proximity to a native canyon. Native canyon hillsides near your home should not be disturbed. The more you can adapt your home’s landscaping to Nature’s landscaping, the healthier and more low maintenance it will be.

Your home may have been built on canyon slopes leveled or filled. When planting in previously disturbed or built slopes and hillsides, choose low-water use plants and trees, especially deep-rooted native plant species. Climate-appropriate plants with strong root structures are the best choices. Their powerful root systems can help hold your soil together.

Coarse compost and mulch can be applied directly to hillside and slope surfaces, providing protection from the force of rainfall and shading exposed soils, if your slope is gentle with a 33% grade or less. With occasional and gentle irrigation, mulch will “knit” together.

Compost blankets are another type of erosion control mat applied to the soil surface to protect and preserve it. They can be used alone, with coir mats or other organic-engineered material with biodegradable grids for stabilization. Mats allow water to penetrate through to the underlying soils while retaining loose soil and debris, preventing erosion. You can plant right through them, or use pre-seeded products.

Irrigation tips to help preserve hillsides

Be sure your irrigation plan takes into account hills and slopes to prevent wasting water and erosion. Photo: Pixabay

Prepping Hillside for planting

When preparing a hillside for planting, plan your irrigation before doing any work. Low-volume rotating spray heads are ideal for sloped areas, if the space is large and the groundcover is uniform. Inline emitter drip tubing can also be effective, especially for wider-spaced shrubs and trees.

Water can be applied in repeated short periods over the course of 24 hours so it can be fully absorbed between application times. Runoff, erosion, and efficient deep watering should be factored into all landscaping plans, but especially for hillsides.

NOTE: When using a drip irrigation system, emitters should be placed above the plant basin. Spray systems should have check valves in all lower heads to avoid low point runoff. Irrigation for the top of the slope and bottom of the slope should be on separate valves.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Gary Croucher-Board Chair-San Diego County Water Authority-Primary

Investments Protect San Diego Region from Drought

It has been a very busy few weeks in the water world, with the governor declaring a drought emergency in two Northern California counties and increased discussions across the West about how to manage water through a very dry year.

While the challenges are real in some parts of the state, I applaud Governor Newsom for taking a targeted, flexible, and iterative approach to drought management. This approach provides support for individual regions that are suffering from drought while also recognizing regions like San Diego County that have sufficient water supplies due to three decades of investments in supply reliability.

Water Portfolio Strategy

The governor’s Water Portfolio Strategy aligns with our region’s long-term investments in a diversified water portfolio, desalinated seawater, conserved water from Imperial County, local water-use efficiency measures, member agency recycled water and local supply projects, and increased water storage. It’s especially important to highlight the efforts of our ratepayers, who have cut per capita water use by nearly half since 1990. Because of those actions and others, our residents have enough water for 2021 and future dry years.

In addition, the innovative and resilient water supply portfolio created by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies puts our region in a unique position to provide solutions that can help California weather this drought and future droughts – for instance, by storing water in Lake Mead. We look forward to working with the governor and his staff to collaborate on projects and programs where we can use our assets and experience to help areas that are hit hard by drought in the face of a changing climate.

Finally, I invite you to read my latest commentary in The San Diego Union-Tribune that addresses many of the issues being faced statewide and how that impacts San Diego County.

I hope you also take a moment to appreciate the cartoon in the U-T by Steve Breen, which perfectly captures our investments over the past three decades.

Steve Breen Drought cartoon-prepared-drought

Value of Water-Photo Contest-Water Awareness Month

Value of Water Photo Contest Celebrates Water Awareness Month

During May, share what the value of water means to you on Instagram for the chance to win great prizes from our partners around San Diego County, including Balboa Park attractions, San Diego Botanic Garden, and the Water Conservation Garden.

The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies are hosting their annual photo contest to celebrate Water Awareness Month in May. 

Water is essential to everything we do. From our morning routines when we’re making that first cup of coffee to our evening routines when we’re brushing our teeth before bed.

But water is also there for all the fun in-between moments when we’re outdoors and enjoying the best nature has to offer. From surfing San Diego County’s beautiful beaches, to exploring waterfalls in the backcountry, to fishing and boating in the region’s lakes. Water brings so much enjoyment, and it also powers our key industries such as brewing, tourism, manufacturing and agriculture. 

Water Awareness Month

As the region celebrates the value of water, it’s important to remember that San Diego County has a proud history of improving water-use efficiency. In fact, over the past 30 years, per capita water use has dropped by more than 50% and maintaining water-smart habits is especially important during what’s turning out to be a very dry year across California.

Since 1991, the Water Authority’s water-use efficiency programs and initiatives cumulatively have conserved more than 1 million acre-feet of water. These savings have been achieved through measures that include incentives on water-efficient devices, legislative efforts, and outreach programs, including photo contests.

Using water efficiently is a way of life and an important responsibility that comes along with the benefits of living in a beautiful Mediterranean climate like San Diegans enjoy.

Over the past decade, residents and businesses across the county have adopted “WaterSmart” plants, irrigation technologies and habits that not only save money, but also create vibrant yards, reduce energy use, protect natural resources and reduce landscape maintenance.

Value of Water photo contest May 1-31

Enter the Value of Water Photo Contest on Instagram from May 1-31, 2021, for the chance to win great prizes from local tourist attractions. 

How to enter

  • Take a photo that illustrates what the value of water means to you. The value of water is all around us, in almost everything we do. Have fun and be creative with the theme.
  • Post the photo to Instagram between May 1-31, follow and tag the Water Authority @sdcwa, and use #ValueOfWater in your post. Multiple entries will be accepted.

Details

  • Contest begins Saturday, May 1, 2021 and ends Monday, May 31, 2021 at 5 p.m.
  • Winners will be announced on Instagram the week of May 31, 2021.
  • Winners chosen based on most “likes” on Instagram.

Prizes

Prizes have been generously donated by local organizations including the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, Friends of Balboa Park, San Diego Botanic Garden and Water Conservation Garden.

  • 1st Prize: 4-pack of Balboa Park Explorer Park Passes + 4 Balboa Park Carousel tickets
  • 2nd Prize: 4-pack of tickets to the San Diego Botanic Garden*
  • 3rd Prize: 4-pack of tickets to the Water Conservation Garden

*The 2nd Prize winner will have their choice of tickets to the San Diego Botanic Garden (Encinitas) or the Water Conservation Garden (El Cajon).

Need Inspiration? Check out past photo contest entries. 

Contest Rules

  • Participants must be 18 or older. Winners will be asked to show proof of age.
  • To qualify, participants must follow and tag the San Diego County Water Authority on Instagram @sdcwa, and the post must include the hashtag #ValueofWater.
  • Photos will be accepted from May 1-31, 2021. The cutoff time is 5 p.m. on May 31, 2021. Multiple entries will be accepted.
  • Winners will be announced on Instagram the week of May 31, 2021.
  • Winners chosen based on most “likes” on Instagram.
  • Employees and Board members of the San Diego County Water Authority and their immediate families are not eligible for prizes but may contribute images.
Scotch broom's blooms are pretty, but it is a non-native invasive species and should be avoided. Photo: Armen Nano/Pixabay

Five Pushy Plant Pests To Avoid

San Diego County’s mild Mediterranean climate allows nearly any type of plants to flourish with adequate irrigation. But when non-native plants are planted alongside native plants, they do their best to take over.  These are plant pests. The worst of them overrun valuable native plant species. They drain limited rainfall and soil nutrients away from native plants which have developed the ability to better manage limited resources. The natives are not as aggressive and can’t compete with the non-native bullies.

Public enemies of your landscaping

Brazilian pepper trees are invasive with damaging roots. Photo: Sabine Schmidt/Pixabay

Brazilian pepper trees are invasive with damaging roots. They are non-native plants you should avoid in a watersmart landscape plan Photo: Sabine Schmidt/Pixabay

Plant pests

You may have planted a few of these common choices in your landscaping without knowing it. They are still sold commercially. These non-natives take up too much space to co-exist with native low-water use plants. If your landscaping gives pushy plant pests a home, remove them at the soonest opportunity.

  • African Fountain Grass
  • Periwinkle
  • Brazilian Pepper Tree
  • Scotch Broom
  • Mexican Feather Grass

Very few non-native specific offer any benefits to the San Diego region’s environment. Local animals and insects prefer native species for food and habitat. Invasive species should also be removed from commercial nursery stock, and shouldn’t ever be planted in the first place. You can help weed them out by removing them.

How to identify non-native plants

The California Invasive Plant Council maintains a list of invasive plants that cause problems throughout the state. This list only addresses plants that are a problem and may miss regional problems. For a list, visit the Plant Right website.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Students-Student displays science and engineering fair project

San Diego County Students Innovate to Solve Water Challenges

In March, Water Authority staff judged water-related projects by students at the 67th annual Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair. Judging the fair is a longstanding tradition at the Water Authority and a component of the education outreach program. For decades, the Water Authority has recognized the top water-related projects with a scholarship and award. This year’s fair was conducted in a virtual format, but more than 280 students still brought their best projects to the table.

Each student who was interviewed by Water Authority staff demonstrated a strong knowledge of the scientific process, as well as an awareness of big picture issues that are important in the water industry and beyond. Five winners were selected, and each will receive a gift card and plaque. Water Authority staff also showcased a video of the five winners and their outstanding projects at the April San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors meeting.

Students present top water-related projects

Forward-thinking students solve global and everyday water issues

In the senior division, first place winner Bella Rose Schremmer designed a piston-buoy rack and pinion wave energy converter device. The 10th grader from University City High School said she was inspired by the kinetic energy formed by ocean waves, and she wanted to create a project that could capture that energy as a renewable energy source to replace the burning of fossil fuels. Bella Rose attributed part of her success in this project to her father, who supported her by procuring materials and providing encouragement, and to her teacher and mentor, Mrs. Bosch, who guided her through the process.

In second place, Suvali Sengupta created a biodegradable microporous polymer that was designed to help soil water retention in an agricultural setting. The 11th grader from Westview High School shared that her inspiration came from her Indian heritage and the drought conditions that India’s farmers struggle with each year.

Saltwater desalination, water purification, water conservation

In the junior division, Kristine Talaga from St. Gregory the Great Catholic School won first place with her project on saltwater desalination. The 7th grader designed a project to test the effects of different colored backgrounds – black, white or foil – on containers containing salt water and how quickly heat could desalinate the water in each container.

Samantha Rivera, an 8th grader from Chula Vista Middle School, claimed second place with her project about which methods of water purification removed the most dissolved solids.

In third place, 8th grader Sonria Rheiglene Simanski, also representing Chula Vista Middle School, tracked how much water is wasted when waiting for the shower to warm up, determining the best times of day to shower for optimal water-use efficiency.

Inspired by the San Diego County Water Authority's free landscape makeover classes, Vallecitos Water District employee Eileen Koonce transformed her own landscaping. Photo: Vallecitos Water District example watersmart landscaping

Five Firefighting Plants Worth Adding to Your Landscaping

As spring temperatures rise, San Diego County residents know wildfire season is not far behind. Although wildfire is a serious threat during warm, dry summer and fall months, wildfire can strike year-round especially in wildland interface areas. Regional landscaping must follow fire safe guidelines in design, plant selection and consistent maintenance.

Protecting your home with firefighting plants

Diagram from CAL FIRE illustrating the three zones for defensible space. Illustration: CAL FIRE

Plan your landscaping using three different zones

Zone 1: Landscapes should resist ignition and provide 35 feet of actively maintained defensible space around structures and access areas through smart design elements and plant selection. This maximizes fire prevention and allows access by fire crews to protect your property from fire if necessary.

Zone 2: Careful thinning of native vegetation for at least 65 additional feet, for a total of 100 feet of defensible space will reduce the chance of airborne embers from catching and spreading fire.

Zone 3: Some plants begin growth and start the germination process after a wildfire. Many of San Diego County’s native plant communities including chaparral can survive and recover from infrequent wildfires.

But the ability to survive is disrupted for even the most well-adapted plants when fires reoccur too frequently. Non-native, invasive plant species encourage more frequent, longer duration fires burning at a hotter intensity. It is critical to remove invasive plants in fire-prone areas.

Choose firefighting plants that resist ignition

Firesafe plants like these succulents are a smart choice for your watersmart landscape plan. Photo: City of Escondido Firefighting plants

Firesafe plants like these succulents are a smart choice for your watersmart landscape plan. Photo: City of Escondido

Some native plants can prevent airborne plant embers due to high salt or water content and low volatile oil content in their leaves. Succulents such as agaves, aloes and crassulas store extra water in their fleshy leaves guarding against drought, and they will help guard your property from wildfire.

Five exceptional firefighting plant choices include:

  • Daylily hybrids
  • Coral Aloe
  • Bush Morning Glory
  • California Sycamore trees
  • Indian Mallow

Rob wildfires of the fuel they need  

Messy, oily trees and shrubs like eucalyptus trees and junipers may flourish in Southern California, but they aren’t natives, and they provide ready fuel for wildfires. They ignite quickly, burning hot and long, releasing embers into the air which causes flames to spread.

Preventative maintenance includes removing dry grass, brush, weeds, litter, waste, and dead and dying vegetation. Trees should be regularly pruned. Shrubs should be thinned, with dead branches and leaves removed. Leave root structures intact to avoid erosion.

Dead leaves and branches are especially flammable on evergreen shrubs and vines like bougainvillea. Avoid planting these close to homes or other structures.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

The Nieves family of Bonita won the Sweetwater Authority's 2019 Landscape Makeover Contest for theier creative WaterSmart landscaping design. Photo: Sweetwater Authority 2021 Landscape Makeover

Enter 2021 Landscape Makeover Contest, Share Your Skills

San Diego County residents who have converted to more water-efficient landscaping can enter the 2021 WaterSmart Landscape Contest hosted by 12 regional water agencies. Entry is as simple as submitting your photos and plant information by Friday, May 14.

Eleven San Diego County Water Authority member agencies are participating, including the Helix Water District, Otay Water District, and Sweetwater Authority. See the full list on the WaterSmartSD website, along with contest rules. Winners selected by each participating agency receive a $250 grand prize to the nursery of their choice along with neighborhood bragging rights.

The coronavirus pandemic spurred interest in gardening worldwide as a safe and healthy activity, with no signs of slowing. Google Trend data shows searches for gardening rising in April 2021. A report by OnePoll in USA Today found 73% of Americans said spending more time outdoors has been therapeutic during the pandemic.

Inspire others to make watersmart changes

Lavender and daisies brighten this winning landscape design in the 2020 Landscape Contest. Photo: Helix Water District

In its 17th year, the contest highlights the benefits and beauty of water-efficient landscaping. It allows homeowners to share ideas and inspiration with other San Diego County residents.

Water-efficient landscape designs can be among the most effective ways to reduce overall water use. Fresh landscaping can also improve the appearance and the value of a home.

“If you have a new water-efficient landscape, we would love to hear your story,” said Vince Dambrose, with the Helix Water District. “The WaterSmart Landscape Contest is a great opportunity to get outside, share your landscape, and inspire others to make changes in their yards, too.”

Entries are judged for overall attractiveness, design, plant selection, efficient irrigation, and appropriate maintenance.

The beautiful, wheelchair accessible garden inspired by Patricia Wood's daughter Kimberly is the 2020 Otay Water District Landscape Contest winner. Photo: Otay Water District 2021 Landscape Makeover

The beautiful, wheelchair-accessible garden inspired by Patricia Wood’s daughter Kimberly is the 2020 Otay Water District Landscape Contest winner. Photo: Otay Water District

After a decade of struggling with a thirsty, high-maintenance lawn, Otay Water District’s 2020 Landscape Contest winner Patricia Wood of El Cajon transformed her 3,850 square foot year into a beautiful and wheelchair accessible design with her daughter Kimberly in mind. She also decreased her water use decreased by an average of 27% overall.

“We are excited to launch the WaterSmart Landscape Contest this year,” said Eileen Salmeron with the Otay Water District. “Due to the pandemic, many of our customers have spent more time than usual working on their landscapes. For this year’s competition, we especially look forward to seeing how they’ve enhanced the curb appeal of their water-efficient gardens.”

A diverse palette of colorful succulents, cacti, and California native plants add to the winning design. Photo: Sweetwater Authority 2021 Landscape Makeover

A diverse palette of colorful succulents, cacti, and California native plants add to the winning design. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

When Efren and Ily Niervas moved to their Bonita home in 2017, they realized the cost of watering their yard with a large lawn and assorted shrubs was too high. They decided to change their landscape and attended home improvement events and expos as part of their research.

The project paid off, as the Niervas won the 2019 Sweetwater Authority Landscape contest with their creative and playful xeriscape plan.

“In previous years, our customers have designed beautiful water-saving landscapes,” said Leslie Payne with the Sweetwater Authority. “We’re looking forward to seeing this year’s creative designs. As customers look for ways to save water and lower their water bill, making water-efficient improvements to their yard is a great way to do both.”

To enter the contest with your 2020-2021 pandemic era makeover, go to landscapecontest.com, select your participating water agency, and then apply. Entrants can use a smartphone to take five to 10 photos of their water-efficient landscaping, share the reason behind the makeover, list the types of plants used and some of the benefits as a result. Water agencies encourage homeowners to submit before and after photos. The 2021 Landscape Makeover Contest deadline is Friday, May 14.

Bee's Bliss Sage (Salvia leucophylla) attracts pollinators including bees and butterflies to your landscaping. Photo: Wikipedia groundcovers to use

12 Grand Groundcovers to Use as Lawn Substitutes

You’ve decided to eliminate the thirsty turf areas in your current landscaping when planning your new sustainable landscape. It’s tempting to install hardscape. It needs no water at all. It might seem like a smart idea, but it creates a new problem: stormwater runoff. It can also increase temperatures and add in its own small way to global warming.

Finding alternatives to cover the area with plants instead of hardscaping will help prevent too much stormwater runoff and capture rainfall.

Consider replacing your lawn with groundcovers. There are many good choices of groundcover plants that make good lawn substitutes. Many species grow well in San Diego County’s six climate zones and the Mediterranean climate natives fall into the very low or low Plant Factor categories. They won’t use as much water than the same amount of grass.

Very Low Plant Factor groundcover choices include:

California lilac (Ceanothus) is a native plant to San Diego County and produces spectacular blooms in early spring. Photo: Wikimedia

California lilac (Ceanothus) is a native plant to San Diego County and produces spectacular blooms in early spring. Photo: Wikimedia

Silver Carpet (Dymondia margaretae)

Bluff California Lilac (Ceanothus maritimus)

Low Plant Factor groundcover choices include:

Bee's Bliss Sage (Salvia leucophylla) attracts pollinators including bees and butterflies to your landscaping. Photo: Wikipedia groundcovers to use

Bee’s Bliss Sage (Salvia leucophylla) attracts pollinators including bees and butterflies to your landscaping. Photo: Wikipedia

Pink Yarrow (Achillea millefolium rosea)

Gold Coin Plant (Asteriscus maritumus)

Sundrops (Calylophus hartwegii)
Carmel Mountain ceanothus

Dwarf Mat Rush (Lomandra longfolia)

Bee’s Bliss Sage (Salvia)

Wooly Thyme (Thymus pseudolanguinosus)

Blue Chalksticks (Senecio serpens)

Moderate Plant Factor groundcover choices include:

The Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) provides a display of white flowers. Photo: Wikimedia groundcovers to use

The Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) provides a display of white flowers. Photo: Wikimedia

Creeping Manzanita ‘Carmel Sur’ (Arctostaphylos edmunsii)

Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)

Pink yarrow, sages, and lilacs also support the lifecycle of butterflies, which are important pollinators.

 

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Love Your Lawn-Conservation Corner-Love your lawn organically

Love Your Lawn Organically

In a waterwise landscape, there’s still a place for turf. You may not need as much, and you need to create the most efficient and organic maintenance plan possible to work turf into your design. The good news: lawns maintained organically and with efficient irrigation can offer a cool, practical surface for active recreation, or just a nice place to relax with your family.

Most lawns require too much water and energy. They become pollution sources from excess fertilizers and pesticide runoff. When lawns are limited to accessible, usable, high-functioning spaces like children’s play yards, sports fields, and picnicking areas, you can prevent this.

Love your lawn organically

Reconsider the concept of lawns. They should not be passive, wall-to-wall groundcover. You don’t need to maintain so much lawn if you won’t enjoy it for the above purposes.

As you decide how much grass to keep in your plan, follow these guidelines to maintain it organically.

  • Top dress your lawn annually with one-eighth to one-quarter of compost.
  • Aerate and de-thatch your lawn annually.
  • Check and control irrigation overspray. Fix problems promptly.
  • Maintain three to four inches of height on cool season grass, and 1.5 to two inches of height on warm season grass.
  • Grass-cycle every time you mow.
  • Don’t allow seed heads to form on the grass. Remove seeds that do form.
  • Consider over-seeding with clover to help make the grass more interesting looking and more drought tolerant.
  • Eliminate the use of chemicals such as pesticides on your grass.
If you decide to keep your grass areas, follow these guidelines to maintain it organically. Photo: Alicja/Creative Commons

If you decide to keep your grass areas, follow these guidelines to maintain it organically. Photo: Alicja/Creative Commons

What’s the difference between Cool Season Grass and Warm Season Grass?

Cool Season Grass:

  • Needs more water than warm season grass and is considered a high use plant.
  • Requires watering in hot summers to prevent it from going dormant and turning brown.
  • Grows typically as bunch grasses and propagates by seed or weak stolons.
  • Cool season grass is easily smothered by sheet mulching.
  • Varieties include: Bent Grass (Agrostis), Fescue varieties (Festuca), Kentucky Bluegress (Poa pratensis), and Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne).

Warm Season Grass:

  • Uses a moderate amount of water.
  • Thrives in daytime temperatures over 80 degrees. It will go dormant (brown) in winter months when it is cooler.
  • Grows from sturdy rhizomes extending deep underground.
  • Warm season grasses require physical removal and/or extensive sheet mulching (up to 12 inches).
  • Varieties inclue: Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylan), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), Buffalo Grass (Buchloe actyloides), St. Augustine Grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), Zoysia, and Seashore Paspalum.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Gary Croucher-Board Chair-San Diego County Water Authority-Primary

Water Authority Credit Remains Strong as Risks Emerge

All three major rating agencies affirmed the San Diego County Water Authority’s strong credit ratings, which will help us minimize the cost of financing important water reliability projects.

It is particularly gratifying that the reports cited the Water Authority’s strategic management, our conservative approach to water sales projections, and the benefits of rate case litigation that recently resulted in $44.4 million being refunded to local retail water agencies, among many other factors. In affirming their credit ratings, the services also noted the Water Authority’s strong financial leadership (including prudent strategies to manage issues related to COVID-19), decades of success diversifying water supply sources, our commitment to infrastructure maintenance, and our financial reserves for managing contingencies.

Significant investments in supply diversification

Just one example: Fitch Ratings said that the Water Authority’s “operating costs are low” and that the Water Authority’s “significant investments in supply diversification (that) have allowed SDCWA to continue to meet water demands in its service area.” Fitch also accounted for the Water Authority’s current hiring freeze, spending cuts and deferral of $30 million in planned capital spending to proactively manage finances during the pandemic.

At the same time, rating agencies also noted significant challenges ahead, including efforts by Fallbrook Public Utility District and the Rainbow Municipal Water District to “detach” from the Water Authority – a move that could negatively impact ratepayers countywide. If the two North County agencies leave per their plans, Water Authority analysis shows that the other 22 member agencies – who serve about 3.2 million residents – will have to pay $16 million to $46 million more per year to cover the cost of the departing agencies.

Detachment and credit ratings

Moody’s said detachment could lead to a credit downgrade, which would increase borrowing costs for critical water reliability projects. S&P Global affirmed its AAA rating for the Water Authority. However, it issued a negative outlook for the agency and called detachment uncertainty “an additional credit stressor” – “especially if an approved detachment sets a precedent if members can easily detach from the authority.” S&P added that, “this would be further exacerbated if the two members are not required to pay for their portion of the associated debt and infrastructure costs that the authority has undertaken to provide reliable water sources.”

In May 2020, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors voted to oppose detachment unless four conditions can be met related to protecting Fallbrook and Rainbow ratepayers, avoiding negative impacts for other member agencies, protecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta, and maintaining the Water Authority’s voting rights at MWD. The issue is under review by the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission, known as LAFCO. The LAFCO process, which is designed to provide for an impartial analysis of these issues, will allow the Water Authority and all other affected parties to determine if these conditions are satisfied. If not, the Water Authority will oppose detachment.