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San Diego County Water Authority Board Chairman Mark Muir. Photo: Water Authority Historic water deal

Everything in San Diego County is Brought to You by Water

We’ve got a great thing going here in San Diego County, from the mountains to the coast and from the far northern reaches of our region to the international border.

Our economy is strong – one of the largest in the nation – with everything from global giants to startups trying to make a splash. We’ve got the most small farms of any county in the country and innovative industries that put us on the map.

And our quality of life is second to none. People come from all over the world to play here and stay here. They come for our attractions, our beer, our climate and everything else this great region offers.

That makes me proud to call this place home. And it reminds me that none of this would be possible without one key ingredient: a safe and reliable water supply.

Sufficient water supplies required for San Diego’s advanced economy

Think about it: We get just 10 inches of rain a year at Lindbergh Field. That’s not enough to sustain even a small fraction of what we do here day in and day out. In fact, the last time our natural water resources were sufficient for San Diego County was 1946.

At the time, San Diego was just at the start of its renaissance, first as a center of military operations, and later as one of the largest, most vibrant metropolitan areas in the nation.

Today, we boast an advanced economy that’s still a key military hub, and also a center of manufacturing, brewing, tourism, agriculture and so much else.

There are lots of reasons for our collective success, but none more foundational than steady and sufficient water supplies. Water is critical for developing new smart phone technology, next-generation medicines, high-tech military ships and world-class guitars and banjos. And the list goes on.

That’s where the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies come in. Together, we secure, treat and deliver this vital resource 24/7/365.

We do it in pioneering and innovative ways, like new and enlarged reservoirs and the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant. We also work the front lines of water-use efficiency with rebates and resources to stretch every drop, because we appreciate the value of the region’s investments in safe and reliable water supplies.

So, every time you slice an avocado on your salad, use your smartphone for directions to the Gaslamp, watch your kid hit a home run on a Little League field, or stroll the tree-lined trails of Balboa Park, remember that this San Diego life is Brought to You by Water.

For more on the Water Authority’s Brought to You by Water program, go to

People walk along the top of the newly opened El Capitan Dam in 1935. Photo: San Diego County Historical Society

1935: El Capitan Dam Dedication

In its quest to supply water to its growing population, the City of San Diego claimed water rights to the San Diego River, and filed for a dam. A Mission Gorge site was first proposed on land owned by business leader Ed Fletcher. Another prominant business leader, John D. Spreckels lobbied for a dam farther north at El Capitan. After a lengthy civic debate, the city chose Spreckels’ project in 1924.

The tug of war over the project fueled a years-long political and legal battle over Native American pueblo rights to water, which affected the construction of the El Capitan Dam. The state Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the City of San diego in 1930, allowing dam construction to proceed. The dam opened to great fanfare and public walking tours in 1935.

Bobby Bonds Jr. on his great grandfather's tractor. Photo: Courtesy Bobby Bonds, Jr.

Backhoe the Perfect Ride for ‘Roadeo’ Champ

Bobby Bond Jr. was born to run a backhoe.

His father, Robert Sr., owns a backhoe dealership in Riverside County and put his son atop a backhoe as a toddler. At age 12, the younger Bond dug a septic tank and leach lines for a new home. He operated heavy equipment like a pro for years before getting his driver’s license.

“Don’t tell your mom,” laughs Bond Jr., recalling his dad’s advice.

With decades of experience – including the past five years at the San Diego County Water Authority – Bond Jr. took top honors in backhoe skills at the Maintenance Supervisors Association of San Diego Backhoe “Roadeo” Competition last summer. That earned him the right to represent San Diego County at the first American Public Works Association National Backhoe “Roadeo” in Orlando, Fla.

While Bond Jr. didn’t take home the gold at the national meet, he’s determined to return this summer.

Tuning Out Distractions Key To Winning Results

Held at the City of Carlsbad Maintenance Yard, the local equipment “Roadeo” event last summer involved a variety of unusual skill tests – wheelbarrow skills, sign assembly and backhoe operation.

Backhoe operators had to remove tennis balls from atop five safety cones in the backhoe swing area and place a pipe lift pin into holes on top of three safety cones. Bond Jr. won with a time of 2 minutes and 25 seconds.

“When I competed in the county competition, there were a few hundred people screaming at me, trying to distract me,” recalls Bond Jr. “I have four kids (ages 2, 4, 7, and 9), so I know how to tune out distractions.”

He said the ability to focus is key to good results – not only in competition but in his everyday role with the Water Authority overseeing crews who perform ongoing maintenance on roads and pipelines. It’s not fun and games when public safety is at stake.

“You must stay focused,” explained Bond Jr. “When you are running the backhoe, a lot of time you’re digging around live utilities … I’ve worked with some people who get frustrated easily, and it can cause you to pull a lever too fast.”

Running a Backhoe With Help From Nintendo

Modern backhoes use joystick controls instead of the foot controls common on older models for extending the backhoe’s boom in and out. While the modern backhoe is more precise, its controls are far more sensitive.

“You don’t feel the flow – the old ones would give you more pressure … You need to be smooth, you can’t be too fast or too jerky,” said Bond Jr.

In addition to decades of experience, Bond Jr. credits playing classic Nintendo video games with helping hone his hand-eye coordination.

While that experience didn’t add up to a win on the national level, Bond Jr. promises he’ll be back to defend his local title in May in hopes of earning another trip to the national competition in Kansas City, Mo., in late August.


MSA San Diego/APWA 2017 Equipment ‘Roadeo’ Full Results

Backhoe Competition

From left to right: APWA President Pedro Orso-Delgado, MSA President Rudy Cancio, Backhoe Champion Bobby Bond, MSA Vice President Tony Ulloa.

Wheel Barrow Course Skills Competition

1st Place: Ryan Kincade, Vallecitos Water District, 59 seconds
2nd Place: Russell Delmar, City of Carlsbad, 1 minute, 2 seconds
3rd Place: Margarito Corado Hidalgo, City of Chula Vista, 1 minute, 5 seconds

Sign Assembly Skills Competition

1st Place: (Tie) Michael Espudo, City of Carlsbad, and Alberto Gonzales, City of San Diego, 3 minutes, 9 seconds
2nd Place, Jerry Condron, City of Encinitas, 3 minutes, 21 seconds
3rd Place: Jesse Gonzales, City of Poway, 3 minutes, 23 seconds

Backhoe Pin Lift and Tennis Ball Skills Competition

1st Place: Bobby Bond Jr., San Diego County Water Authority, 2 minutes, 50 seconds
2nd Place: Matt Paxon, City of Encinitas, 3 minutes, 14 seconds
3rd Place: Matt Hollingsworth, City of Carlsbad, 3 minutes, 26 seconds

Overall “Roadeo” Competition Team Champions

1st Place: City of Carlsbad, 7 minutes 39 seconds
2nd Place: City of Encinitas, 7 minutes, 41 seconds
3rd Place: City of San Diego, 8 minutes, 3 seconds

Three things are required for optimal garden soil: OWL, or oxygen, water, and life. Photo: SDCWA

Gardening Like A Wise Old OWL

Your landscaping soil needs three things to feed the billions of microbes within it that can transform brick-hard, lifeless dirt into healthy, living soil: Oxygen, Water, and Life. Or in shorthand: OWL. 

Oxygen Lets Microbes Breathe Free 

Oxygen is needed by plant roots and soil organisms. Healthy soil has lots of tiny pockets of air. When soils are eroded, graded, or disturbed, their structure becomes compacted and hard. Compaction takes place when air and water bubbles are squeezed out of the soil. This kills the healthy microbes that replenish soil. Microbes can be killed by fertilizers, pesticides, or even heavy traffic from people or vehicles. 

Water For Your Microbes and Your Plants 

Microbes and plants need water to live. But too much water in your soil will displace oxygen by saturating the soil. This creates an anaerobic condition — and unhealthy microbes like bacteria, viruses, or parasites prefer anaerobic soil. If this condition persists, diseases may develop that endanger the health of your garden.   

Water is constantly moving through the soil. Water in the soil needs to be replenished as plants use it, as it evaporates from the soil surface, and as gravity pulls it down past the root zone of your plants. 

Bring Your Soil To Life  

Life in the soil includes all the bacteria, protozoa, nematodes, and fungi, the food they eat, the excretions they make, and the root systems they sustain. Living microbes are most quickly incorporated into your soil by adding high-quality compost.  

Plants attract microbes to their roots by feeding them carbon. Bacteria and fungi hold the soil together with microscopic glues and binders. The microbes consume organic matter, and then they are consumed by bigger creatures (worms, ants, slugs, centipedes, larvae, etc.), which are consumed in turn by creatures further up the food chain.  

Carbon and other nutrients cycle through these many life forms, creating healthy living soil, no matter what the soil type.  

Without these three elements, landscaping will not thrive. Organic matter, planning and some labor may be involved, but creating healthy soil using the OWL method will pay off in reduced maintenance, reduced inputs, reduced pollution on land and in our waterways, and the beauty of your thriving, healthy landscape.   

 Get Your Free Sustainable Lanscapes Program Guidebook

This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at Hardcopies are available free of charge at the Water Authority’s headquarters, 4677 Overland Ave., Kearny Mesa. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at   




Pipelines from Lake Hodges to the Olivenhain Reservoir helps generate electricity and gives the San Diego County Water Authority the ability to store 20,000 acre feet of emergency water supplies at Lake Hodges when the entire project is finished. Photo: SDCWA

2012: Lake Hodges Projects

While looking for ways to optimize the San Diego region’s water supply, San Diego County Water Authority engineers realized the potential to link the new Olivenhain Reservoir with the existing Lake Hodges just to its east. Not only would connecting the lakes by a pipeline facilitate movemnt of Lake Hodges’ water through the regional distribution system, but the Water Authority could capitalize on a rare opportunity to generate electricity.

The resulting pipeline rises 770 feet from Lake Hodges to the Olivenhain Reservoir. Moving water uphill requires two 28,000-horsepower pumps sitting 10 stories underground. When water flows downhill through the same pipeline, it generates up to 40 megawatts of electricity, enough for 28,000 homes. The Water Authority generates power during the day when energy prices are highest. It pumps water back uphill at night when energy costs are lower, creating revenue in the process.

Completed in 2012, the Lake Hodges Projects facilities allow water stored in lake Hodges to be delivered to the Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant prior to distribution to a majority of the county. This also gives the Water Authority the ability to store 20,000 acre-feet of emergency water at Lake Hodges when the entire Emergency Storage Project is finished.

By order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the U.S. Navy built the San Diego Aqueduct to deliver Colorado River water to San Diego. It is now known as Pipeline 1. Photo: SDCWA

1947: Construction of the First San Diego Aqueduct

San Diego became a hub of Naval Activity after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II in 1941. The city’s population doubled in two years, and water use also doubled. It was clear the city and the Navy would soon need water from the Colorado River. An aqueduct for bringing that water to San Diego became a top priority.

The Navy was willing to help build the aqueduct, and let the City of San Diego pay it back. On November 28, 1947, the first Colorado River water finally flowed south from the Colorado River aqueduct’s western end in Riverside County for 71 miles into the City of San Diego’s San Vicente Reservoir near Lakeside via the San Vicente Aqueduct, now known as Pipeline 1 of the First San Diego Aqueduct. It ran over some of the county’s most rugged terrain and could deliver 65,000 acre-feet per year. At a time when all of San Diego County had less that three weeks’ water supply remaining, the completion of the project came just in time.

The 318-foot-tall Olivenhain Dam in North County is a major component of the Water Authority’s Emergency and Carryover Storage Project. The dam added 24,000 acre-feet of water storage capacity. Golden Watchdog Award

Water Authority Project Named ‘Golden Watchdog Award’ Finalist

San Diego, Calif. – The San Diego County Taxpayers Association named the San Diego County Water Authority’s Emergency & Carryover Storage Project as a finalist for its prestigious “Regional Golden Watchdog Award” in the 23rd annual Golden Watchdog and Fleece Awards.

The “Goldens” recognize the best and worst in local government spending, decision-making, and efficiency. Winners will be announced at the sold-out #Goldens awards dinner on Thursday, May 17. The Taxpayers Association (@sdcta) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization, dedicated to promoting accountable, cost-effective and efficient government.

“We’re very excited to recognize the good work done this year,” said Haney Hong, President and CEO of the Taxpayers Association. “The Golden Awards Dinner is a great time to acknowledge local government’s biggest achievements and also the flops from the past year. We appreciate all the elected officials and notable San Diegans who come from across the region to participate in this event.”

In 2016, the Water Authority and Poseidon Water received the Grand Golden Watchdog from the Taxpayers Association for the Carlsbad Desalination Project for “stretching taxpayer dollars through cooperation between the public and private sectors.”

This year, the Water Authority is up for an award for its Emergency & Carryover Storage Project. The Project is composed of a system of reservoirs, interconnected pipelines, and pumping stations designed to make water available to the San Diego region if imported water deliveries are interrupted. The project added 90,100 acre-feet of water storage capacity for emergency use, and more than 105,000 acre-feet of carryover storage capacity as a hedge against dry years.

The project won an Award of Merit in the 2016 Global Best Projects competition held by the industry publication Engineering News-Record. It was also named Project of the Year by the American Public Works Association, and it won the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 International Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award. For more about the project, click here.

The full list of finalists for the Golden Watchdog Award:

  • San Diego County Water Authority: Emergency and Carryover Storage Project
  • San Diego County Employees Retirement Association: Expense Reductions and Organizational Improvements
  • San Diego Community College District: Props S & N Bond Funds
  • San Dieguito Union High School District & Solana Beach School District: Collaboration During Construction



Compare your soil to these diagrams to determine your landscaping's soil composition. You can then adjust amendments to reach the optimum mix. Illustration: SDCWA Jar Soil Test

What Kind of Soil Do You Have? Take the Test

If you have ever put a shovel into the ground in San Diego County, you have likely encountered the region’s impermeable soils. Impermeable soils are defined by their poor infiltration areas. This means water doesn’t flow through the soil to replenish the groundwater, because the soil is too dense.  

It also means water doesn’t soak evenly into the ground or flow through living soil to plants in a healthy way. No matter where you do your landscaping, you should concentrate on improving your soil structure as much as possible. That will help irrigation be more efficient and more cost-effective, and your landscape plants will receive the nutrients and water they need to flourish. 

Why Does Particle Size Matter in Soils? 

 Before you can build better soil, you need to figure out what type of soil you are working with. The three basic types of soil are: 

  • Clay: Soil made up of the smallest particles 
  • Silt: Soil made up of a mixture of particle sizes 
  • Sand: Soil made up of the largest particles 

 In general, sandy soils drain faster than clay soils, because there is more space between the larger particles. Soil structure also influences soil quality. Lifeless, compacted, sandy soil will not absorb water, while healthy clay soil will be more sponge-like, holding and releasing water.  
The “just right” soil – an even blend of sand, silt and clay – is called loam. 

Determining Your Soil Type Using The Jar Soil Test 

 Some tests can be done onsite to figure out what kind of soil you have. Others require lab analysis. Certain conditions require specialized tests, such as soil used for food production or soil receiving a lot of storm water. 

You can test your home landscaping soil yourself using a “Jar Test.” This is a fun project to do with kids. 

  1. Use a one-quart glass container. 
  1. Add one cup of soil from the garden. You can select one area or take samples from several areas and blend them together. 
  1. Add three cups of distilled water. 
  1. Close the jar and shake it until all the soil solids are suspended in water. 
  1. Put the jar on a shelf and wait 24 hours.  
  1. If the container is still cloudy, wait another 24 hours. 
  1. After 48 hours, the soil layers should be settled on the bottom. 
  1. Measure the layers in proportion to each other, with the total adding up to 100 percent. 
  1. Sand will be on the bottom, silt in the middle, and clay on top. 

 Refer to the graphic to determine your soil type, based on the proportions of sand, silt, and clay. 

 Which jar does your home sample look most like? 

Now you can work to improve your soil condition, providing the best possible foundation for your landscaping plants and the most efficient irrigation.  


This article was inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at Hardcopies are available free of charge at the Water Authority’s headquarters, 4677 Overland Ave., Kearny Mesa. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at   




Don Billings receives the 'H2O Champion' Water Legacy Award from SDCWA Chairman Mark Muir and Vice Chairman Jim Madaffer. Photo: Water Authority

Five San Diegans Honored With Inaugural Water Legacy Awards

Five recipients of the first ever 2018 Water Legacy Awards received recognition in ceremonies at the Water Authority’s boardroom on May 2.

Bestowed by the Authority’s Board of Directors, the awards honor each recipient’s individual impact on the region’s water issues through their leadership, advocacy, and public communication.

Don Billings, recipient of the H2O Champion Award, remarked upon accepting, “I know it’s not the Academy Awards, but my favorite awards speech is when the actors says, ‘Saying the words is the easy part, writing the story is the hard part.’ All that we’re doing here is telling the phenomenal story written every day by the incredible leadership of the Water Authority who makes it possible.”

See video featuring highlights of the awards ceremony here.

Five recipients in four categories are:

Young Leader Award – Sophie Barnhorst

Barnhorst, a 2015 Water Academy graduate, leverages her deep understanding of our region’s water issues through public testimony against proposed water rate increases. She participates in Water Authority legislative roundtables, and also serves as co-chair of Leaders 2020, a network of young professionals committed to sustainable solutions for the San Diego region.

Social Influencer – Gabriela Dow

Dow shares news through engaging and informative social media posts with thousands of followers on social media, while writing about the Water Academy and water issues. Also a 2015 Water Academy alumna, her commitment to water goes back to her earliest days in San Diego, when she worked on water supply and sustainability projects. Dow remains active in sending comment letters to the State Water Resources Control Board, advocating for sensible water use policies.

Outstanding Advocacy – Jack Monger

Monger has been a strong supporter of prudent water legislation while meeting with legislators and policy makers in Sacramento and Washington D.C. Monger also keeps the region’s largest manufacturing companies up to date on water issues.  In addition, he encourages them to remain engaged in the region’s water future. Monger leverages his membership in key civic organizations to promote water education and informed policy decisions, including groups such as the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and San Diego Port Tenants Association.

There are two winners of the H2O Champion award in its first year.

H2O Champion Award – Don Billings

One of the most active and vocal alumni since the Water Academy was founded in 2014, Billings has attended numerous legislative roundtables, and alumni events and other forums. He authored a comment letter to the State Water Resources Control Board expressing his concerns about water use regulations. As former chair of the City of San Diego’s Independent Rates Oversight Committee, his informed opinions on water issues carry significant weight with our region’s thought leaders and journalists.


H2O Champion Award – Rorie Johnston

Johnston displays a Water Academy alumni license plate holder on her car, but her advocacy does not end there. As an alumna, Johnston attends and supports numerous alumni events. She wrote expressing opposition to the Metropolitan Water District’s controversial rate structure many years ago, as well as joining elected officials opposed to the water tax. She runs a local Chamber, using her post to keep local business leaders up to date on water issues, including newsletters.

The award-winning Citizens Water Academy is currently accepting nominations for its Fall 2018 class in the South County. The Citizens Water Academy is open to future and emerging leaders in the San Diego region who want to learn about critical projects and programs related to water.

Through the academy, the Water Authority is expanding and sustaining a diverse network of influencers who are willing to serve as outreach ambassadors on water issues and refer others to future academy classes. The selection process is competitive and acceptance is not guaranteed. The Water Authority typically receives many more applications than spots available.

Learn more about the upcoming Academy and submit a nomination here. The submission deadline is September 10, 2018.





Alfred and Audrey Vargas, a brother and sister team from Sweetwater High School, won top honors from the Water Authority for water-related projects at the regional Science and Engineering Fair. Their work is designed to provide low-cost fresh water to people in developing countries. Photo: SDCWA

Sweetwater High Students Aim To Avert World Water Crisis

Audrey and Alfred Vargas are trying to expand access to clean drinking water one drop at a time.

The brother and sister duo, who live in National City and attend Sweetwater High School, have been refining a portable, low-cost, easy-to-use, simple-to-construct system that efficiently desalinates brackish water.

“We see it as one of many possible solutions that can help solve the water crisis occurring throughout the world today,” said Audrey Vargas, 15.

Their endeavor is garnering growing attention. At the Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair, their project – Solar Desalination Using a Parabolic Trough – secured the top Senior Division award from the San Diego County Water Authority.

Water Authority promotes innovation in students

The Water Authority has sponsored the Science & Engineering Fair for decades, and the Water Authority’s Board of Directors recognized Audrey and Alfred at its April 12 meeting, along with five other top water-related projects from the science fair.

Board member Frank Hilliker interviewed the Vargas team at the science fair and was impressed with their work. “The fact that they were able to take such a complex challenge and find a solution that seems so easy and without having to spend a lot of money was remarkable,” he said. “There are no computers, no electronics, no fuel involved. It’s a fascinating way to provide clean, reliable drinking water for people who don’t have access to clean water.”

Besides the Water Authority award, the siblings also won a Scripps Institute of Oceanography Climate Science Award, and their work was honored by the WateReuse Association (San Diego Regional Chapter) and the California Environmental Health Association – Southwest Chapter/San Diego County, Department of Environmental Health. They compete in the California State Science & Engineering Fair competition on April 23 and 24 at Exposition Park in Los Angeles.

Students set sights on solving global problem

Audrey and Alfred aspire to see their device used in impoverished communities around the world that don’t have reliable sources of drinking water.

“My sister and I live in a very modest community, and we see people who are living in poverty every day,” said Alfred. “This is a cost-effective and simple solution that can help anyone have access to a basic necessity.”

Alfred and Audrey have been entering science fairs since they were middle schoolers and Alfred has been refining the desalination project for the past three years. Alfred and Audrey note that a pivotal manner of obtaining freshwater is by distilling seawater. But that can be a costly and time-consuming process. Their portable, parabolic desalination device, however, can efficiently purify brackish water through a simple yet complex process that uses PVC pipes, a copper tube, and the sun.

Sofia Sandoval, a chemistry teacher at Sweetwater High School who advised the students, said Alfred and Audrey are destined for greatness. Indeed, Alfred aspires to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology and work as a chemical engineer. Audrey is determined to gain acceptance to Harvard, UC Berkeley, and Stanford en route to a career enforcing environmental regulations.

“Alfred and Audrey are not the typical high school students who were interested in conducting a cookie cutter science fair project,” Sandoval said. “They have bigger dreams. They came to science fair orientation meeting with a firm belief that humans have a moral obligation to help humanity. They, themselves, feel obliged to enter careers that allow them to directly help humans.

“This conviction, along with Audrey’s environmental passion and Alfred’s engineering mind, drove them to their project topic selection. I think this project embodies exactly what our next generation scientists and innovators should focus on, namely a multi-dimensional approach to solving world problems.”