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"Misty" by Bonita Vista High School Noah Kitcher sophomore was a winning entry in the 2022 Sweetwater Authority High School Student Photo Contest. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Sweetwater Authority 2023 Student Photo Contest Open

The 15th annual Sweetwater Authority High School Photo Contest is now open for entries. The contest showcases and celebrates how safe, reliable water service supports our daily lives through photography.

The theme for the 2023 contest is “Water In Daily Life.” Past winners have featured photos from landscapes to everyday household activities and using water to wildlife and pets.

1st Place: Ashley Monroy, Hilltop High School, Grade 12 – “Summer Day.” Photo: Sweetwater Authority

1st Place in the 2002 Color Category: Ashley Monroy, Hilltop High School, Grade 12 – “Summer Day.” Photo: Sweetwater Authority

“Water in Daily Life”

“Whether at home, outdoors, at school, or within our community, water is vital to everything we do,” said Sweetwater Authority Board Chair Hector Martinez. “This contest offers students a chance to reflect on how water supports their lives and showcase that through their artistic talent. The Board is proud to continue this tradition of engaging with local students about the value of water, both through this contest and our other education programs and partnerships.

Winners will receive monetary prizes, have their artwork displayed at the Bonita Museum & Cultural Center, and receive recognition at a Sweetwater Authority Board meeting in May 2023.

Creativity, technical quality, visual appeal, and theme

Honorable Mention winners in the 2022 Color Category: (L) Skyler Yowakim, 9th Grade, Bonita Vista High School, “Stepping Into The Future;” (R) Sebastian Pimentel Lugo, 9th Grade, Sweetwater High School “Solin Bath.” Photo: Sweetwater Authority

The contest is open to students who live or attend school in the Sweetwater Authority service area.

The deadline to submit entries is 5 p.m. March 17. Photos must be taken in 2022 or 2023 within the Sweetwater River Watershed or the  Sweetwater Authority service area boundaries covering National City, Bonita, and western and central Chula Vista.

Photos may be in black and white or color. Entrants can submit up to three photos in each category. Students are permitted to edit the photos for minor adjustments only and must retain a natural, realistic appearance. Photos may not depict bottled water or the ocean or beach.

1st Place: Skyler Yowakim, Bonita Vista High School, Grade 9 – “Making A Wave.' Photo: Sweetwater Authority

1st Place in the 2022 Black and White category: Skyler Yowakim, Bonita Vista High School, Grade 9 – “Making A Wave.’ Photo: Sweetwater Authority

In addition, each photo must include a short essay of 50 to 100 words describing how the photo related to the contest theme. Judging will be performed by a panel of Sweetwater Authority staff and community experts. Judging criteria includes creativity, technical quality, adherence to the theme, visual appeal, and the narrative to explain the significance of the photo

Winners receive cash prizes: $400 for first place, $300 for second place, and $200 for third place. Sixty-five students submitted entries in last year’s competition. Full contest rules and submission information is available at www.sweetwater.org/photocontest. Submissions must be emailed to . Photos must be in JPEG form, 10 MB or less, and 300 PPI resolution. Photos must be sized to 8 x 10 inches.

(Editor’s note: The SweetwaterAuthority is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the San Diego County region.) 

History on wheels rolls into the Vallecitos Water District when a 1947 Jeep becomes a museum display named for longtime board member Betty Ferguson. Ferguson is behind the wheel at the 2010 San Marcos Christmas Parade. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

History on Wheels Honors Vallecitos Water District Service

The Vallecitos Water District will honor its history when it moves a vintage service vehicle with a significant story to tell into its lobby this month.

The District’s General Manager Glenn Pruim approved moving the 1946 “Willys” CJ2A Jeep into the lobby of its headquarters building as a museum display, with informational signage and photos depicting its activities.

Legacy of Service

The 1946 Jeep served the District for decades. It became a favorite public outreach tool, appearing in parades and public events in the District. It made its final apperance i the 2010 San Marcos Christmas Parade. Photo: Vallecitos Water District History on wheels

The 1946 Jeep served the water district for decades. It became a favorite public outreach tool, appearing in parades and public events. It made its final appearance in a San Marcos Christmas Parade. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

The 1946 Jeep served the water district for decades. It was used to survey property. When this task was no longer feasible, the Jeep became a favorite public outreach tool, appearing in parades and public events in the Vallecitos service area. It made its final appearance at the 2010 San Marcos Christmas Parade, driven by Vallecitos Board Member Margaret E. “Betty” Ferguson, who had an affinity for the Jeep after serving in the Women’s U.S. Marine Corps.

In addition to her 35 years of dedicated service to the Vallecitos Water District on its board of directors, Ferguson was the first City Clerk for the City of San Marcos. She was the planning commission secretary and city manager pro tem from 1963 to 1971. Throughout her career, Ferguson served on many city, county, and state boards, task forces, and commissions.

Vallecitos Public Information Representative Lisa Urabe said Ferguson repeatedly demonstrated her ability to work with other board members, customers, and District employees. “Betty was more than just a Vallecitos board member,” said Urabe.

In 2013, the Vallecitos Water District adopted a resolution honoring Betty’s contribution, diligent efforts, and selfless service to the District.

Board of Directors Salutes Betty

Several years later, Board President Jim Hernandez and Board Member Betty Evans expressed interest in using the Jeep for public outreach. Public Outreach/Conservation Supervisor Chris Robbins suggested the idea of a museum-type display. He suggested naming the Jeep “Betty” after Ferguson’s recent passing to honor her longtime service. “She used to love to drive it,” said Robbins.

The Jeep will be moved into place over a weekend, with curated signage and information about the colorful history of “Betty” and its beloved namesake. It will be on public display during business hours.

(Editor’s note: The Vallecitos Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the San Diego County region.) 

New for 2023, qualified residents can take advantage of the in-person “Designer At Your Door” technical design assistance program. Photo: WaterSmartSD.org

Landscape Makeover Program Adds New ‘Designer At Your Door’ Service

There is a new opportunity for San Diego County residents who want to save water through the WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program: “Designer At Your Door.”

This new in-person service offers on-site and in-studio technical design assistance from landscape industry professionals for qualified residents. As 2023 begins with cool, rainy weather, now is the ideal time to attend a virtual three-hour workshop to start your makeover.

This new iteration of the WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program features the original award-winning WaterSmart curriculum delivered in three ways: special topic workshops available online and in-person; virtual skill-building videos; and in-person technical design assistance.

‘Designer At Your Door’ offers onsite help from landscape pros

“The WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program is responsive to changing times and the changing needs of regional residents,” said Joni German, Water Authority water resources specialist. “The Designer At Your Door service replaces our award-winning four-class Landscape Makeover Series with the same quality education, combined with additional one-on-one, on-site support. We believe our enhanced approach will help residents achieve water savings with a beautiful new landscape that suits their lifestyle.”

Frank Edwards had a complete plan after attending the Water Authority's WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series. Photo: Frank Edwards Padre Dam Landscape Makeover

Homeowner Frank Edwards had a complete plan after attending the Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series. Photo: Frank Edwards

Requirements for new service; registration information

Participants must meet qualifying criteria to participate in the new “Designer At Your Door” service. This includes a living lawn with a minimum size, a working in-ground irrigation system, and a willingness to install a more sustainable landscape. They must also attend a minimum of five three-hour workshops to qualify. Read more about the Designer At Your Door program and its requirements here.

Registration is required for the online workshops. The 2023 workshop schedule starts on Saturday, January 14. Weekday workshops are held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., and Saturday workshops from 9 a.m. to noon. Register here.

Introductory webinars focus on specific landscape topics with a “do-it-yourself” approach. From plant choices and irrigation to design and maintenance, webinars offer timely help on upgrading landscapes with low-water use plants and personal design touches.

The results of Frank Edward's hard work. Photo: Padre Dam MWD

The results of Frank Edward’s hard work. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Sustainable landcapes use less water

WaterSmart has helped regional residents convert more than 1.5 million square feet of turf into beautiful, sustainable landscapes that use less water and provide a lifestyle-friendly yard ideal for San Diego’s climate. New landscapes installed through the WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program have been proven to reduce water use by up to 37%.

San Diego County residents continue to take advantage of free online webinars offering step-by-step support to create a beautiful, water-efficient outdoor landscape. Webinar topics cover residential landscape design for the homeowner, plant palettes, healthy soil, irrigation retrofits, and streamlined landscape maintenance. More than 8,000 San Diego County residents have taken these courses to date.

These topics and more are covered in the program’s Video On Demand series. This series covers various landscape topics in short, entertaining, and instructional videos available 24/7.

Conservation gains plus rebates help offset investment

Deborah Brandt's landscaping before its makeover. Photo: Vista Irrigation District Vista 2021 Contest

Deborah Brandt’s landscaping before its makeover. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

Landscape watering accounts for more than half of a typical household’s water use in California. The Water Authority’s online classes can help residents create a drought-tolerant, water-efficient landscape with a design that maximizes enjoyment of the outdoor space. In addition, homeowners can save the time and expense required for ongoing turf maintenance.

Colorful, waterwise plants replaced a thirsty, labor intensive front lawn in Deborah Brant's winning landscape makeover. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

Colorful, water-wise plants replaced a thirsty, labor intensive front lawn in Deborah Brant’s winning landscape makeover. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

San Diego County homeowners, businesses, and organizations such as homeowners association (HOA’s) can receive between $2 and $4 per square foot to remove turf and replace it with low water-use plants better suited to our region’s climate. All customers are eligible for the base rebate of $2 per square foot. Learn more at socalwatersmart.com

Some agencies offer additional funding, including the City of San Diego and the County of San Diego. Residents in unincorporated San Diego County may be eligible for additional incentives through the Waterscape Rebate Program.  

While San Diego County’s investments in supply reliability continue to protect the region, national weather models suggest drought, and a hotter, drier climate, will continue to strain water resources across the West and increase water conservation.

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority sustains a $240 billion regional economy and the quality of life for 3.3 million residents through a multidecade water supply diversification plan, major infrastructure investments and forward-thinking policies that promote fiscal and environmental responsibility. A public agency created in 1944, the Water Authority delivers wholesale water supplies to 24 retail water providers, including cities, special districts, and a military base.)

Two student artists representing the Otay Water District are among the 37 Southern California students whose artwork will appear in the 2023 “Water Is Life” Student Art Calendar. Photo: MWD student artwork

San Diego County Student Artwork Featured in 2023 Calendar

Six San Diego County student artists are among the 37 Southern California students whose artwork will appear in the 2023 “Water Is Life” Student Art Calendar.

The “Water is Life” Student Art Calendar is produced annually by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, or MWD. It showcases student artwork visually illustrating important water conservation messages. Member agencies submit artwork for consideration among the winners of their local competitions.

The six regional winners for 2023 were invited to describe the inspiration behind their artwork in a virtual award ceremony to honor their achievements on December 8.

“You give us hope for a better future,” MWD board chairwoman Gloria D. Gray told the students.

Student winners from the San Diego region

Catalina Jones and Clare Brandt represent the Helix Water District in the calendar. Photo: MWD student artwork

Catalina Jones and Clare Brandt represent the Helix Water District in the calendar. Photo: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

Catalina Jones, a sixth grader at Lemon Avenue Elementary School, and Clare Brandt, a third grader at Our Lady of Grace School, represent the Helix Water District in the calendar. Jones won third place in the Grades 5-8 category, and Brandt won an honorable mention in the grades K-4 category in the Helix WD competition. Catalina’s teacher is Lori Korovec, and Clare’s teacher is Jessica Collins.

Second grader Melanie Garcia represents Sweetwater Authority with her winning student artwork. Photo: MWD

Second grader Melanie Garcia represents Sweetwater Authority with her winning artwork. Photo: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

Second grader Melanie Garcia from El Toyon School represents Sweetwater Authority with her artwork. Her captions are “Water is Life. I Love Water. Water is the best.” Her teacher is Silvia Loera-Toledo.

Two students from the Otay Water District have their artwork featured in the calendar. Khilee Haull is a seventh grader at Hillsdale Middle School and won first place in the Otay WD contest. Christian-Kealoha Rogacion is in the fifth grade at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School and won second place in the Otay elementary school category. Christian’s teacher is Mrs. Dare.

“With daily reminders about the drought that we have in Southern California, I thought it was important to incorporate this into the art curriculum, and we did have a lot of fun with it,” said Elizabeth Cordle, Khilee’s art teacher. “It was very rewarding as an art teacher to see how creative students could be.”

Water awareness

“We are proud of the creativity and water awareness that the students representing Otay have demonstrated through their posters,” said Eileen Salmeron, communications assistant, and poster contest coordinator. “As California’s drought continues, the artwork in this calendar will serve as a reminder that when it comes to water, every drop counts.”

Conservation message through artistic expression

“Every year, students show us their artistic talents in helping us promote the need and value of saving water through their imagination and creativity,” said MWD General Manager Adel Hagekhalil. “I am so thankful for this opportunity to engage with the youth of Southern California, as they are our future leaders and innovators.”

The “Water is Life” Student Art Calendar was created 34 years ago. It selects student art submitted from grades K through 12 to help convey vitally important water conservation messages. The annual calendar is distributed to 13,000 recipients each year.

(Editor’s note: The Sweetwater Authority, Helix Water District, and Otay Water District, are three of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the San Diego County region.) 

City of Poway staff including the Public Works Utilities (Water/Wastewater) Divisions provided toys and shoes for over 150 children in cooperation with the Kiwanis Club “Holiday with a Hero” event.(L to R): Erick Calderon, Amjad Mohamed, Barry Medlin, Randy Slusher, Terry Zaragoza, and Michael Devenere. Photo: City of Poway

Water Industry Workers Support Holiday Giving Programs

Holiday giving programs are a tradition among the San Diego region’s water and wastewater agencies. As in previous years, in 2022, employees pitched in to help a wide array of nonprofit community services.

Members of the San Diego County Water Authority’s Charitable Giving Committee and Employee Association teamed up to help out in a food drive for the San Diego Food Bank and also encouraged employees to volunteer their time to help the organization.

A donation drive for Just In Time for Foster Youth collected financial donations and informed employees about opportunities to act as mentors and also connect college-bound foster youth with financial aid options and r help them move into a dorm or off-campus housing.

Bringing joy to kids in need

We had 16 of our staff support 20 children in the South Bay through the Angel Tree program this year. holiday giving programs

Sweetwater Authority employees gathered enough items to support 20 children in the South Bay through the Angel Tree program in 2022. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Sweetwater Authority

Sweetwater Authority employees have been active participants in the Salvation Army Angel Tree program for nearly two decades, providing toys to children in its service area. Every year, employees take a tag that contains information about the recipient (age, gender, toy request). The employee shops for the item and brings them back unwrapped to the office. The Salvation Army picks up and delivers the donated toys. This year, employees donated enough toys to help make Christmas bright for 20 South County families and kids.

Helix Water District

The Helix Water District employee volunteer program, “Helix Helps,” collected toys for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program at each of its facilities. Photo: Helix Water District Workers embrace Holiday Giving

The Helix Water District employee volunteer program, “Helix Helps,” collected toys for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program at each of its facilities. Photo: Helix Water District

Every holiday season, the U.S. Marine Corps works with nonprofits and businesses to collect toys for distribution to children in need through its annual Toys for Tots campaign. The Helix Water District employee volunteer program, “Helix Helps,” collects toys each year from collection boxes at each of its facilities and donated them both in-person and virtually.

Special giving traditions of generosity

Environmental Programs/Utilities employees dropping off donations for this year’s employee holiday drive. City of Escondido Environmental Programs/Utilities employees drop off donations for this year’s holiday drive.(L to R): Marielle Decker, Emily Mixer, Sawyer Epp. Photo: City of Escondidov

City of Escondido Environmental Programs/Utilities employees drop off donations for this year’s holiday drive. (L to R): Marielle Decker, Emily Mixer, Sawyer Epp. Photo: City of Escondido

City of Escondido

City of Escondido employees, including the water and wastewater divisions put together “Souper Sacks,” bags of non-perishable food and fun surprises distributed through the city’s senior program at the Escondido Senior Center. This year’s effort brought 104 Souper Sacks. In addition, 500 pajamas were collected for students and families at the Escondido Union School District by the city’s “PJ Angels” for the Operation PJ program.

City of Poway

The City of Poway’s Public Works / Utilities employees collaborated with the Kiwanis Club “Holiday With A Hero” event to collect toys and shoes for more than 150 Poway children – a 50% increase from 2021.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Olivenhain Municipal Water District employees make sure pets in need aren't forgotten at the holidays with a donation to the San Diego Humane Society. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Olivenhain Municipal Water District employee Tammi Bowman and her assistant Daisy make sure pets in need aren’t forgotten during the holidays with a donation to the San Diego Humane Society. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Olivenhain Municipal Water District employees enjoy playing Santa’s elves each holiday season with special giving traditions. Olivenhain MWD supports a family of six, three veterans, and two older adults through the Salvation Army Adopt-A-Family program. Donations were also gathered and dropped off to support the San Diego Humane Society.

For 17 years, OMWD employees have enthusiastically supported fundraising for the nonprofit Water for People. The water district works with communities across the globe to install safe water and sanitation systems, educating local people on good health practices and saving thousands of lives. Olivenhain employees have volunteered abroad, helping set up water and sewer systems with the agency’s full support.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District “elves” Tammi Bowman and Paul Martinez show off donated nut baskets in front of “adoption” collection boxes. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Olivenhain Municipal Water District “elves” Tammi Bowman and Paul Martinez show off donated nut baskets in front of “adoption” collection boxes. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

During the holiday season, the San Diego chapter holds a competition to sell the most gift baskets donated by Wonderful Pistachios. Employees help assemble the baskets for sale. OMWD has been a top donor in past years. It set an ambitious goal of 200 baskets to win the honor of being “the nuttiest place to work in San Diego.” The agency’s employees exceeded the goal with 204 baskets collected.

(Editor’s note: The Helix Water District, Sweetwater Authority, Olivenhain Municipal Water District, City of Poway, and City of Escondido are five of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across San Diego County.)

Nearly 4,000 students visit the Hydro Station annually and learn more about careers and opportunities in the water and wastewater industry through hands-on interactive learning experiences, including December 2's lecture on hydro power. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District Nearly 4,000 students visit the Hydro Station annually and learn more about careers and opportunities in the water and wastewater industry through hands-on interactive learning experiences, including December 2's lecture on hydro power. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District Nearly 4,000 students visit the Hydro Station annually and learn more about careers and opportunities in the water and wastewater industry through hands-on interactive learning experiences, including December 2's lecture on hydro power. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District Nearly 4,000 students visit the Hydro Station annually and learn more about careers and opportunities in the water and wastewater industry through hands-on interactive learning experiences, including December 2's lecture on hydro power. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District Chula Vista students

Chula Vista Students Learn How Water Produces Energy

Students in the Chula Vista Elementary School District learned about the science of hydroelectric power during their most recent Innovation LIVE! event. The online lesson, “Water + Wheel = Power!” was led by CVESD’s Hydro Station on December 2.

The Hydro Station opened nearly four years ago at the Richard A. Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility. A unique joint educational partnership between the Sweetwater Authority, the Otay Water District, and CVESD, the Hydro Station was the first program of its kind to to open in California.

Nearly 4,000 students visit the Hydro Station annually and learn about careers and opportunities in the water and wastewater industry through hands-on interactive learning experiences.

Future water leaders

The need for future water leaders is great and continues to grow. One-third of the region’s 2,800 water and wastewater professionals will be eligible for retirement in the next few years. The Hydro Station helps play a role to encourage students to consider careers as professionals in the water industry.

“The water industry offers many exciting career opportunities,” said Sweetwater Authority General Manager Carlos Quintero. “Through our partnership with the Hydro Station, we are proud to be helping share these opportunities and inspire the next generation of water professionals.”

Hands-on projects using everyday materials

 CVESD District Innovation Teacher and project leader Christy Bystrak provides a project demonstration for student viewers. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School DistrictCVESD District Innovation Teacher and project leader Christy Bystrak provides a project demonstration for student viewers. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District Chula Vista students

CVESD District Innovation Teacher and project leader Christy Bystrak provides a project demonstration for student viewers. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District

During the online event, students were invited to build their own water wheel and take on the role of a plant maintenance technician to learn from firsthand experience. All of Hydro Station’s online live event projects can be accomplished with common household materials, such as empty plastic water bottles, scissors, straws, tape, and a bucket of water. These projects can be done individually, with partners, or in groups.

The online events are free and open to all students, parents, and families. Lessons are recorded and become part of an extensive library of instructional videos on CVESD’s Innovation & Instruction YouTube channel.

“Together, we get to learn and explore a variety of topics that are all related to water,” said CVESD District Innovation Teacher and project leader Christy Bystrak. “Today, we want to see how we can use the power of water to make a machine move and create energy.”

As part of the Hydro Station lectures, students learn about the skills needed for water and wastewater industry careers. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District Chula Vista students

As part of the Hydro Station lectures, students learn about the skills needed for water and wastewater industry careers. Photo: Chula Vista Elementary School District

Previous Hydro Station events and topics have included building water pipelines, protecting watersheds, groundwater, and exploring careers in civil engineering.

In addition to water-related topics, CVESD offers interactive lessons on coastal education, health, technology, and clean energy.

“The Hydro Station effort is an essential part of educating our youth about the wide variety of water industry jobs available to them as they prepare for their futures,” said Otay General Manager Jose Martinez. “Because many in the industry are retiring, we continue to recruit and promote water careers. This educational program is an additional resource to help us to increase the talent pool in the industry.”

See their entire lineup of instructional videos on YouTube here.

(Editor’s note: The Otay Water District and the Sweetwater Authority are two of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across San Diego County.)

The Panorama HOA in Lake San Marcos achieved beautiful results from its landscaping makeover project, which will conserve water and preserve the region's watershed. Photo: Vallecitos Water DistrictHOA landscape makeover

Lake San Marcos HOA Landscape Makeovers Benefit From County Watershed Restoration Program

Lake San Marcos area homeowners associations are conserving water and helping restore the area’s watershed with support from the County of San Diego’s Watershed Rebate program. The rebate program is part of the County’s Watershed Protection Program.

An example of the transformation of the Panorama HOA landscaping. Photos: Vallecitos Water District

An example of the transformation of the Panorama HOA landscaping. Photos: Vallecitos Water District

Through a partnership between the program and the San Diego County Water Authority, residences and businesses in unincorporated areas of San Diego County are eligible for enhanced water-use efficiency rebates. The Waterscape Rebate Program saves money for residential, commercial, and agricultural customers who make landscape upgrades to improve the region’s climate resilience and reduce the flow of pollutants into waterways.

The Panorama HOA in Lake San Marcos is one of six HOAs in the Vallecitos Water District participating in the program. The project is featured in a new video produced by Vallecitos.

Partnership working to meet drought challenges

“While droughts are cyclical, now they’re hotter and drier and lasting a lot longer,” said Joni German, water resources specialist at the Water Authority. “The Water Authority looks to our partners like the County of San Diego’s Watershed Protection Program to help us meet these challenges.”

“This project here in Lake San Marcos is a great example of a successful turf conversion project, supported by multiple agencies through the Landscape Optimization Service, said German. “Panorama HOA removed 30,000 square feet of thirsty turf and replaced it with sustainable landscaping, including 14,000 square feet of native landscape.”

Multiple benefits from HOA landscape makeovers

Removing turf yields multiple benefits including water conservation, watershed protection, and potential cost savings. Photo: Vallecitos Water District HOA landscape makeovers

Removing turf yields multiple benefits including water conservation, watershed protection, and potential cost savings. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Sustainable landscapes produce multiple benefits, which include reducing water use, enhancing habitat, increasing stormwater retention, and decreasing runoff.

To make applying for rebates easier for large landscapes, the County created the Landscape Optimization Service (LOS), a unique technical assistance program for large-scale landscaping projects. The program helps applicants with large landscapes, such as HOAs and commercial properties, to navigate the requirements, overcome any barriers, and maximize their rebate eligibility.

“It’s a service offered free to large landscapes. It helps them get the most from the rebates that are available,” said Jamie Milani, land use planner for the Watershed Protection Program. “Throughout the process, we are always here for our customers. If there’s ever any challenges with the rebate application process, we’re here to help.”

The new landscaping uses California native plants, which are eligible for an additional rebate. Photo: Vallecitos Water District HOA landscape makeovers

The new landscaping uses California native plants, which are eligible for an additional rebate. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

LOS staff analyzes estimated water and cost savings, including anticipated rebate totals, which helps decision-makers justify the investment with an understanding of how quickly the project will pay for itself. The program also offers discounted landscape design services to participants.

Rebate amounts can vary. Multiple rebates can be stacked together, including $3 per square foot for turf replacement, $60 per smart controller station, $65 per rain barrel, and up to $450 per cistern. The County program also offers $1 per square foot for landscapes planted with California native plants.

Positive feedback from Panorama HOA on program participation

Jack Rush. Vice President of Operations for O'Connell Landscape Maintenance. discusses the makeover plan with Panorama HOA president Amber Rugghanti. Photo: Vallecitos Water District HOA landscape makeovers

Jack Rush, vice president of operations for O’Connell Landscape Maintenance, discusses the makeover plan with Panorama HOA President Amber Rugghanti. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Panorama HOA President Amber Ragghanti said members decided to participate in the program due to its landscaping aging out and the opportunity to secure assistance from the program, along with the rebates.

“The residents at Panorama were really happy with the process, especially because there was no cost,” said Ragghanti. “A lot of the people living here are also concerned about saving water.”

Ragghanti encourages other qualified HOAs to look into the program. “It’s been such a benefit. It’s been easy. The whole process has been a lot smoother than I thought it would be. I would recommend it to anybody.”

Water customers in unincorporated San Diego County can determine their eligibility at: WatershedRebates. More information on the Landscape Optimization Service can be found here.

When irrigation systems overflow from landscaping, runoff may carry pollutants like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers into the storm drain system and cause adverse effects. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

When irrigation systems overflow from landscaping, runoff may carry pollutants like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers into the storm drain system. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

The Waterscape Rebate Program helps protect local waterways by reducing pollutants that enter storm drains. When irrigation systems overflow from landscaping, runoff may carry pollutants like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers into the storm drain system. Reducing turf helps reduce irrigation use and runoff.

(Editors Note: The Vallecitos Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

San Diego County Water Authority board member Lois Fong-Sakai has been elected secretary of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

San Diegan Lois Fong-Sakai Elected MWD Board Secretary

San Diego County Water Authority board member Lois Fong-Sakai has been elected secretary of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Fong-Sakai, who represents the City of San Diego on the Water Authority board, is a registered civil engineer in California and Nevada. She becomes the first Asian-American to service on the board of the Los Angeles-based water wholesaler serving nearly 19 million people in six counties.

“It’s a great honor to serve not only San Diego County, but all of Southern California,” said Fong-Sakai. “Extreme drought conditions create significant challenges that will be best addressed through collaboration and cooperation across the region.”

Fong-Sakai one of four Water Authority delegates to the MWD board

Fong-Sakai has served on the Water Authority board since April 2015 and is one of four Water Authority delegates on the 38-member MWD Board of Directors, which represents 26 member agencies in Southern California.

Fong-Sakai says her new role may expand to take advantage of her expertise as a parliamentarian and member of the National Association of Parliamentarians for 35 years.

“I’m hopeful that I can help with running more efficient meetings,” said Fong-Sakai. “Parliamentary procedure is not a lot of stuffy rules about how meetings should be run. It allows all voices and opinions to be heard respectfully, including those of the minority positions. With open and inclusive discussions and debate, we, as an organization can only be stronger.”

In remarks accepting her new position, Fong-Sakai shared her family history, from her Chinese American and Japanese American relatives who first came to the U.S.in the 1850s and embraced democracy despite widespread discrimination. Nearly a century later, Fong-Sakai’s Japanese-Americans relatives, American citizens and legal residents, were forcibly moved to internment camps where they remained for three years following the attack at Pearl Harbor.

As part of her new role, Fong-Sakai is passionate about ensuring everyone has a voice. “As secretary, I will seek to allow all voices and opinions to be heard respectfully, including those of minority positions,” she said. “Open and inclusive discussions will make Metropolitan stronger and benefit everyone in Southern California.”

Fong-Sakai closed her remarks by sharing a Chinese proverb. “’One chopstick is easily broken, while a bundle of chopsticks is not.’ Indeed, when we work together, we are indeed greater and stronger than the sum of its parts.”

Experience in water planning and policy; dedication to building sustainable water systems

Fong-Sakai has more than three decades of experience in water planning and policy including work as a project manager and engineer for major water projects for the West Basin and Central Basin water districts, and the industrial wastewater treatment plant at San Francisco International Airport.

She helps raise funds to plan, design, and build sustainable water systems in nine developing nations as a member of the American Water Works Association’s Water for People charitable organization. Fong-Sakai is past president and a current member of the Society of Women Engineers, California Water Environment Association, and the Asian Business Association. For the past 25 years, she has volunteered with the foster organizations Polinsky Childrens’ Center and Promises2Kids, and was named San Diego County’s 2020 Volunteer of the Year.

Fong-Sakai is the Chief Financial Officer at Jade Coast Software, Inc., a business she owns with her husband Willie. She is a member of Professional Photographers of San Diego County and Senior Coordinator of the International Exhibition of Photography at the San Diego County Fair. She earned both her master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering and bachelor’s degree in chemistry from University of California, Berkeley.

2022 Top Workplaces-San Diego County Water Authority-Top Workplace

San Diego County Water Authority Named a 2022 Top Workplace

The San Diego County Water Authority has been named a Top Workplace for 2022 by The San Diego Union-Tribune – the second straight year the agency has been recognized. The newspaper’s honor roll is based solely on employee feedback through third-party surveys by Energage LLC, an employee engagement technology firm.

“Everyone in San Diego County benefits from the Water Authority’s work to ensure water supply reliability – but what they don’t see is all the work behind the scenes to develop a top-tier workforce capable of serving this region,” said Water Authority Board Chair Mel Katz. “Creating a culture that fosters collaboration, cultivates community and strives for excellence helps to ensure we are ready to tackle the complexities and uncertainties inherent in water management.”

Top Workplace Award is “badge of honor”

Energage performs anonymous surveys of employees in participating workplaces, measuring 15 culture drivers deemed critical to organizational success, including alignment, execution, and connection.

“Earning a Top Workplaces award is a badge of honor for companies, especially because it comes authentically from their employees,” said Energage CEO Eric Rubino. “That’s something to be proud of. In today’s market, leaders must ensure they’re allowing employees to have a voice and be heard. That’s paramount. Top Workplaces do this, and it pays dividends.”

The Water Authority was recognized as a 2022 Top Workplace in the category for best mid-size companies. The agency sustains a $240 billion regional economy and the quality of life for 3.3 million residents through a multi-decade water supply diversification plan, major infrastructure investments and forward-thinking policies that promote fiscal and environmental responsibility.

Employees recognized for dedication, creativity

“This Top Workplace award is a reflection of Water Authority employees who not only bring industry-leading expertise but also creativity, compassion, dedication, and resilience,” said Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl. “In this season of Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for colleagues that contribute so much to our region.”

Kerl commissioned the first employee survey in the agency’s history in 2019 as a starting point for her larger effort to integrate different generations of employees, embrace the diversity of the agency’s workforce and empower all employees to reach their full potential.

Shared values

She attributes the agency’s evolving culture is a direct result of ongoing engagement with employees at all levels of the organization. A critical part of this effort has been working with employees to identify seven shared values that define the agency at its best. Those values include cultivating community, promoting collaboration, striving for excellence, and creating lasting solutions.

“As we enter what is likely to be a fourth straight year of extreme drought, the demands on the Water Authority and other water agencies will be significant,” Kerl said. “It’s also clear that this staff will rise to the challenge.”

With more than 1,000 water and wastewater jobs expected to open across San Diego County in coming years, the industry offers many promising opportunities. For water and wastewater job postings across the region, go to www.sandiegowaterworks.org.

2022 Top Workplace-Top Workplace-San Diego County Water Authority

The Vallecitos Water District honored Dawn McDougle by naming the administration building at its Meadowlark Reclamation Facility in her honor. Photo: Vallecitos Water District Dawn McDougle honored

Building Named to Honor Water Industry Pioneer Dawn McDougle

The Vallecitos Water District honored former staffer and water industry pioneer Dawn McDougle by naming a building in her honor. The McDougle Building, at the Meadowlark Reclamation Facility, celebrates her three decades in the wastewater industry.

McDougle, who retired at the end of 2021, joined district and industry colleagues, friends and family, at a dedication ceremony November 17. Her dog Farley also attended too. Farley was an honorary Vallecitos employee who accompanied her to work each day. The Vallecitos Water District Board of Directors approved the naming of the building in April 2021, but pandemic restrictions delayed a dedication ceremony.

Dawn McDougle poses next to the plaque naming the administration building at the Meadowlark Reclamation Facility in her honor. Photo: Vallecitos Water DIstrict Dawn McDougle honored

Dawn McDougle stands alongside the plaque naming the administration building at the Meadowlark Reclamation Facility in her honor. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Public Information/Conservation Supervisor Chris Robbins led the initiative to honor McDougle.

“I’ve worked on a lot of satisfying and interesting projects in my 30 years in the water industry, but getting the building named after Dawn McDougle is probably the best thing I’ve done,” said Robbins.

A plaque featuring native flowers was unveiled at the building during the ceremony. Yellow rose cookies were also included because McDougle planted yellow roses at the plant to add a pleasant scent. Custom cookies featured purple pipes watering flowers, symbolizing the use of reclaimed water from the Meadowlark plan used to irrigate landscapes throughout North San Diego County.

Leadership role encouraging women to pursue water and wastewater careers

Dawn McDougle's dog Farley joined in the dedication ceremony. Photo: Vallecitos Water DIstrict Dawn McDougle honored

Dawn McDougle’s dog Farley joined in the dedication ceremony. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

McDougle played a major role in the $30 million expansion and upgrade of the Meadowlark Reclamation Facility, extending its lifespan beyond 2030. The facility produces recycled water for golf courses at La Costa and the Four Seasons Resort Aviara in Carlsbad, several school sites, and Legoland California. McDougle kept the existing plant operating while implementing innovations allowing the facility to increase capacity while at the same time reducing chemical and energy costs. The plant successfully reached its output goal of five million gallons per day.

She started at Vallecitos as an industrial waste technician at a time when few women performed that work. She advanced her career by taking classes and earning certifications – and she helped others by mentoring and coaching them along the way. McDougle says she knew from the first day she arrived she wanted to finish her career at Vallecitos.

“For over 30 years, I have had the honor of being Dawn’s coworker, her supervisor, and most importantly … her friend,” said Vallecitos Water District operations manager Ed Pedrazzi. “Today’s dedication of the building to Dawn is well earned and well deserved.”

(Editor’s note: The Vallecitos Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)