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2009: Taking A Bite Out Of Water Use

Ten years ago, the state and region were facing a water crisis — snowpack levels were below normal and water restrictions were in place.

Thinking outside the box, the Water Authority sweetened its conservation outreach efforts by partnering with the San Diego-Imperial Council of the Girl Scouts to distribute water conservation tip sheets across the region with the scouts’ popular cookies.

In March 2009, 400,000 conservation cards were handed out with 2 million boxes of cookies. “Please take a few moments to implement one or more saving tips,” the cards said. “The amount of water saved could have a huge impact on our region!”

This partnership was part of a $1.8 million outreach program that helped the San Diego region prepare for potential water supply allocations. The campaign was the Water Authority’s largest advertising and marketing effort since the early 1990s.

On January 10, 1957, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors approved construction of the Second San Diego Aqueduct.

1957: Second San Diego Aqueduct Approved To Support Growing Region

After completion of Pipeline 2, in the First San Diego Aqueduct in 1954, it soon became clear additional water would be needed to sustain the growing region. On January 10, 1957, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors approved preliminary plans for the construction of the Second San Diego Aqueduct. The general manager was directed to expand the engineering staff and prepare construction drawings and specifications for building another aqueduct, which eventually extended from the Metropolitan Water District’s delivery point in North County to the City of San Diego’s Otay Reservoir.

Over the next 25 years, three pipelines were completed in the Second Aqueduct, bringing the Water Authority’s total pipeline capacity to about 1 million acre-feet per year.


Dedication ceremony at Oat Hills Tunnel, releasing water into the San Diego Aqueduct. Left to Right: Chairman Fred A. Heilbron, Water Authority; D.E. Howell, San Diego County; E.G. Nielsen, Bureau of Reclamation; Chairman Joseph Jensen, Metropolitan Water District; Capt. C.W. Porter, U.S. Navy. Extreme left: General Manager and Chief Engineer Richard S. Holmgren observing removal of bulkhead. Photo: SDCWA Archives

1954: Water Flows Freely Through Entire First Aqueduct

On Oct. 2, 1954, the Water Authority celebrated the completion of the San Diego Aqueduct. A dedication ceremony was held with the S.A. Healy Company, contractor of the last section of the aqueduct. During the ceremony, Captain C.W. Porter, representing the Commandant of the Eleventh Naval District of the U.S. Navy, presented a letter to Board Chairman Fred A. Heilbron and General Manager and Chief Engineer Richard S. Holmgren, turning over control of the second “barrel” of the aqueduct to the Water Authority. The withdrawal of the last bulkhead in the aqueduct at the south portal of Oat Hills Tunnel (see photo) allowed water to flow uninterrupted for the first time through the entire length of the aqueduct.

Water Shortage Headlines Collage

1990s: Drought Prompts Supply Diversification Strategy

In the early 1990s, the Water Authority received 95 percent of its water from a single source — the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — making the region vulnerable to supply shortages. In February 1991, worsening drought conditions forced MWD to cut deliveries to the San Diego region by 31 percent. The cutbacks lasted for more than a year, prompting local business and community leaders to ask the Water Authority why it depended on a single source for virtually all of its water. Since then, the Water Authority has aggressively diversified the San Diego region’s water supply portfolio to ensure reliability. Today, the region relies on MWD for about 40 percent of its supplies.

2003: Colorado River Agreement Signed

In 1995, the San Diego County Water Authority began negotiations with the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) for the transfer of up to 500,000 acre-feet of water per year from the fertile farming area in the southeastern corner of California. In 1998, the Water Authority and IID signed an agreement that provided for the transfer of between 130,000 and 300,000 acre-feet of water per year, depending on the exercise of certain options. Despite legislation signed in 1998 by then Governor Pete Wilson to encourage the transfer, its actual implementation took five more years to materialize.

Faced with the propsect of reduced sales to its largest customer, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) responded to the Water Authority-IID deal with an all-out battle to protect its monopoly. In late 2003, pressure from the California State Legislature and the governor forced MWD to back down. It joined the Water Authority, IID, the Coachella Valley Water District, state of California, and the U.S. Department of the Interior in signing the historic Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA). The QSA created a plan for limiting the state’s use of Colorado River water to its basic annual appointment of 4.4 million acre-feet, instead of continuing to rely on surplus supplies that belonged to other fast-growing states in the Southwest.

San Vicente Aqueduct

1954: Final Pipe Installed for Pipeline 2, San Vicente Aqueduct

Thanks to an intensive lobbying effort and consensus building by the San Diego County Water Authority’s first chairman, Fred Heilbron, the San Vicente Aqueduct’s second pipeline was constructed between 1951 and 1954.

The effort paid off when the second pipeline, parallel to and the same size as the first, began delivering water to the San Diego region. But even the doubling of capacity was insufficient to supply the growing population. The Water Authority had grown to 18 member agencies, and was four times the service area it had when it was originally formed ten years earlier in 1944.

Planning immediately began for a third pipeline, Pipeline 3.

Sweetwater Dam was constructed through the efforts of the Kimball Brothers, and spurred development of National City and Chula Vista. Photo: SDCWA Archives

1895: Sweetwater Dam Spurs South Bay Growth

As early as 1853, farmers in the San Diego region started making the transition from dry land farming and ranching to irrigated agriculture, specifically lucrative citrus crops. With the prospect of large profits looking, farmers scrambled to develop local water supplies for irrigation.

A pair of enterprising brothers stepped up to fill the need for water in the back country. They organized the Kimball Brothers Water Company. In 1869, it bought the rights to the Sweetwater River and then built a reservoir with a 90-foot high dam and distribution pipes. Their water supply spurred the development of National City and Chula Vista.

Archives-Water Pipe, 1911-1915

1911: Laying Water Pipe To Serve San Diego’s Growing Population

At the turn of the century, San Diego County began experiencing tremendous urban growth. To meet the growing need of the population, water development began in earnest. It started a transition from relying on well water to impounding river water in the county’s mountains, and then moving it into the urbanized areas. The next few decades were dominated by the clash of interests between agricultural interests and development interests, promises for water delivery, and the usual cycles of drought and floods.

San Vicente Aqueduct

1951: Construction Milestone for Pipeline 2, San Vicente Aqueduct

When World War II concluded, most experts expected San Diego’s population to decrease, but that was not the case. Pipeline 1 proved inadequate to meet the region’s water needs. Drought years in 1950-51 increased concerns about water shortages.

The Water Authority appealed to the U.S. Navy to help build a second pipeline. It was willing, but its hands were tied by the Bureau of Reclamation, which built the first pipeline because of the wartime emergency. With the war over, it could not fund the project unless Congress authoritzed the Navy to request it.

The first chairman of the San Diego County Water Authority, Fred Heilbron, undertook the effort to create consensus to build Pipeline 2. Among his tactics: crashing a breakfast meeting between the Secretary of the Navy and then president of the Metropolitan Water District board of directors; and enlisting help lobbying Congress including Senator Richard M. Nixon.

The effort paid off. Officials celebrated every milestone of construction, including the installation of the first section of pipe.

1920s: Crouch Well, Emerald Hills Country Club

The area which constitutes Emerald Hills in San Diego County was once a Kumeyaay Indian burial site. The modern neighborhood is named for the Emerald Hills Country Club and Golf Course, established in the area in 1929 by Art Cloninger, a well-known restauranteur of the era. The hilly area had a magnificent view of the downtown San Diego area and San Diego Bay.

In the 1920s, all water was still procured locally in San Diego County. To develop his golf course, a well was dug on the property, known as the Crouch Well.

The club was sold in 1939 to build a transmitter site for new radio stations KFSD-AM/FM. Due to the proximity to the Chollas Naval Towers, the KFSD towers were not built until 1948. During World War II, the golf course remained in operation. After the radio transmitter facility was built, Emerald Hills was lowered from an 18 hole course to a nine-hole course. The remaining golf course was sold to developers to be used for homes in 1958, and the community is still named for the golf course, Emerald Hills.