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Water Conservation Helps San Diego Regional Supply During Drought

Water conservation is a way of life in the San Diego region, whether during drought periods or wet years. While the region is in drought like much of the Southwest U.S., San Diego County is not experiencing a water shortage. That’s because the Helix Water District, and the other water utilities serving the region, have worked together for 25 years to conserve water and invest in new water resources.

The San Diego County Water Authority, its 24 member agencies, and the water ratepayers of San Diego County, have made investments to increase water supply reliability.

June 2021 was the hottest June on record in the U.S.

High temperatures make drought conditions worse. The hotter it is, the faster water evaporates from soil and transpires from plants. This is why urban landscapes, crops and forests dry out and the risk of wildfires increases. The map below shows all of the wildfires currently burning throughout the West.

Map from InciWeb

InciWeb map shows current fires burning across the U.S. West.

On July 8, Governor Newsom declared a drought emergency everywhere except Southern California

The Governor called for all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15%, but only declared a drought emergency in the counties in red in the map below. That’s because communities in central and northern California are more likely to rely on a single river, creek or well for their water and are more vulnerable to drought. It’s drier in Southern California and water agencies have been developing multiple water resources to meet water supply needs for more than 100 years. Today, this approach helps protect the region against drought and water shortage.

Map from Cal Matters

On July 8, 2021, Governor Newsom extended his drought emergency declaration to include all 50 counties in central and northern California.

In the San Diego region, water utilities work together to develop water supply

Helix and other water utilities in San Diego depend on the San Diego County Water Authority to import water from the Colorado River and Northern California.  When residents and businesses pay their water bills, their water utility pays the Water Authority for the imported water they use. Then, all the water utilities meet at the Water Authority and decide how to invest that money in water resources. By pooling our money over the last 25 years, we invested $3 billion and developed projects no single utility could afford on its own.

San Diego County Water Authority board meeting photo from Water News Network

Board members from member agencies work together as the board of the San Diego County Water Authority.

San Diego residents use half the water they used in the 1990s

Residents and businesses in the region have reduced their water bills by installing water efficient plumbing fixtures, appliances, landscapes and irrigation, and have taken advantage of rebates to save money. Today, San Diego County residents use half the water they used in the 1990s. As a result, water utilities have been able to reduce the size and cost of new water projects. Conservation eases demand when there is a water shortage due to drought or emergencies.

Water efficient landscaping at The Water Conservation Garden

Water efficient landscaping at The Water Conservation Garden.

Water supply from the Colorado River

In 2003, the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to sell up to 200,000 acre feet of water annually to the San Diego County Water Authority. Water used to irrigate crops was now available to San Diego homes and businesses, and just one acre foot of water can sustain up to four homes for a year. And, the Imperial Irrigation District has the most senior water rights on the Colorado River. If the Colorado River Basin states renegotiate how the river’s water is divided up, those senior water rights will help protect San Diego.

Colorado River photo from KUER Public Radio

Muddy Colorado River flowing through Utah.

Drought-proof water resources

In 2014, the Water Authority completed the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant to turn Pacific Ocean water into drinking water. It’s the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere. Now, we’re focused on turning recycled water into drinking water by using reverse osmosis, just like at the Carlsbad plant, and other advanced water treatment technology.

New water supply projects underway

Helix is working with Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the city of El Cajon and the county of San Diego on the East County Advanced Water Purification Program, and the cities of San Diego and Oceanside are developing “Pure Water” programs.

Reverse osmosis cannisters at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo from Poseidon Water

Reverse osmosis canister arrays at the Carlsbad Desalination

More space to store water

The more water we can store during a wet year, when a lot of rain and snow falls on California and the Colorado River Basin, the more water we have available in a dry year. Diamond Valley Lake, which Metropolitan Water District of Southern California filled in 2002, stores enough water for Southern California for six months. With the construction of Olivenhain Dam and the raising of San Vicente Dam, we have an additional six month water supply just for the San Diego region.

San Vicente Dam photo from the San Diego County Water Authority

San Vicente Dam.

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

Vista Irrigation District Logo

Vista Irrigation District Announces WaterSmart Landscape Contest Winners

Vista, Calif. — The Vista Irrigation District board of directors recognized customers for their entries in the district’s WaterSmart Landscape Contest. The annual contest recognizes outstanding water-wise residential landscapes based on the criteria of overall attractiveness, appropriate plant selection, design, appropriate maintenance, and efficient methods of irrigation.

San Vicente Energy Storage Facility Powers Ahead with $18M Boost

July 16, 2021 – A large-scale renewable energy project proposed jointly by the City of San Diego and the San Diego County Water Authority received $18 million in the state budget signed this week by Gov. Gavin Newsom, enough to advance the San Vicente Energy Storage Facility through initial design, environmental reviews, and the federal licensing process.

The San Vicente energy project is one of the most promising pumped energy storage solutions in California and it would be a major asset to help avoid rolling blackouts through on-demand energy production while helping to meet state climate goals. It also could mitigate costs for water ratepayers across the San Diego region by generating additional revenue to help offset the cost of water purchases, storage, and treatment. The City and the Water Authority are developing the project together, just like they did to raise the height of the city-owned San Vicente Dam 117 feet in the 2010s

San Vicente Dam-Fill Chute-Energy Storage Project

San Vicente Energy Storage Facility Powers Ahead with $18M Boost

A large-scale renewable energy project proposed jointly by the City of San Diego and the San Diego County Water Authority received $18 million in the state budget signed this week by Gov. Gavin Newsom, enough to advance the San Vicente Energy Storage Facility through initial design, environmental reviews, and the federal licensing process.

The San Vicente energy project is one of the most promising pumped energy storage solutions in California and it would be a major asset to help avoid rolling blackouts through on-demand energy production while helping to meet state climate goals. It also could mitigate costs for water ratepayers across the San Diego region by generating additional revenue to help offset the cost of water purchases, storage, and treatment. The City and the Water Authority are developing the project together, just like they did to raise the height of the city-owned San Vicente Dam 117 feet in the 2010s.

Energy for 135,000 households

Upon completion, the San Vicente energy project would provide up to 500 megawatts of long-duration stored energy, which will assist in meeting peak electrical demand periods throughout Southern California and help meet the goals of Senate Bill 100, which requires 60% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% zero-carbon energy resources statewide by 2045. The project will provide enough energy for about 135,000 households when operating.

Construction jobs

“I want to thank Governor Newsom, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and all the members of the Legislature for funding a vital San Diego project that will help us provide reliable, clean energy,” said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. “This innovative partnership with the San Diego County Water Authority will help our City meet its climate goals while building sustainable infrastructure and supporting good-paying local jobs.”

Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher also highlighted the work of state leaders and staff at both agencies who have been collaborating on project plans for years.

“The San Vicente Energy Storage Facility will reduce the chances for rolling blackouts by storing renewable energy for use when it’s needed most,” Croucher said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins for ensuring funding for this critical infrastructure project, which will create more than 1,000 construction-related jobs in addition to its other benefits.”

Environmental reviews, licensing

With state funding in place, the Water Authority and the City are preparing to launch federal and state environmental reviews, seek a project license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and issue a Request for Proposals for a full-service private partner to help develop the project. Those complex components are expected to take at least four years, with construction completion forecast for 2030.

“California has a proud history of adopting forward-thinking solutions to our biggest challenges, and the San Vicente Energy Storage Project is no exception,” said Sen. Atkins of San Diego. “This may well be a pivotal moment in our statewide efforts to meet peak power needs and maximize our use of renewable energy.”

Pumped energy storage

California sources nearly one-third of its power from renewables, mainly solar and wind. The target for renewable energy in California is 60% by 2030. Such a major shift to renewables will require new kinds of investments, markets, and business practices. Electric grids need to be more flexible; new kinds of power supplies will help deliver energy flexibility when needed; and new pricing systems are needed to send clear signals to developers and financial markets that these projects need to move forward.

Pumped energy storage projects are a major piece of the solution. They are designed to store excess renewable energy from solar and wind during the day, and then discharge that energy when energy use increases in the evening and renewable energy is not available.

Energy Storage Process-San Vicente-Pumped Hydro-Energy

The San Diego County Water Authority and the City of San Diego are partners in developing the San Vicente Energy Storage Facility. The pumped storage energy project at San Vicente Reservoir could store 4,000 megawatt-hours per day of energy, or 500 megawatts of capacity for eight hours.

The San Vicente project would create a small upper reservoir above the existing San Vicente Reservoir in Lakeside, along with a tunnel system and an underground powerhouse to connect the two reservoirs. The powerhouse would contain four reversible pump turbines.

During off-peak periods – when power is inexpensive and renewable supplies from wind and solar facilities exceed demand – turbines would pump water to the upper reservoir where it would act as a battery of stored potential energy. During high energy use, the system would discharge water from the upper reservoir downhill through the turbines, producing energy. The exchange between the two reservoirs would not consume water.

San Vicente Reservoir is near major electricity transmission interconnection facilities, which would allow the project to play a central role in integrating solar and wind energy from across the Southwest for use in San Diego County. The San Vicente project is largely immune to the challenges faced by some conventional hydropower facilities because it is a closed-loop system that mainly holds imported water and is not reliant on runoff that can fluctuate significantly from year to year and hamper power production.

For more details about the San Vicente Energy Storage Facility go to: www.sdcwa.org/projects/san-vicente-pumping-facilities/

San Vicente Energy Storage Facility Powers Ahead with $18M Boost

July 16, 2021 – A large-scale renewable energy project proposed jointly by the City of San Diego and the San Diego County Water Authority received $18 million in the state budget signed this week by Gov. Gavin Newsom, enough to advance the San Vicente Energy Storage Facility through initial design, environmental reviews, and the federal licensing process.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Logo landscape design workshops

Encinitas Landscape Transformation Project Wins Local Contest

Encinitas, Calif. — Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors honored at its July 14 meeting Ken and Susan Terzes as the winner of OMWD’s 2021 WaterSmart Landscape Contest.

Padre Dam Resuming Late Fees and Water Shutoffs in an Effort to Protect Customers

July 13, 2021 — Padre Dam Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors voted (4-1) to resume billing late fees on utility bills for unpaid past due balances beginning August 1, 2021 after pausing fees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the District will resume water service shutoffs for non-payment beginning on October 1, 2021. The District is returning to pre-pandemic policies set forth in its Rules and Regulations to ensure compliance with California State Laws.

Water Authority General Manager Issues Statement on Governor Newsom’s Expanded Drought Proclamation

July 8, 2021 – Sandra L. Kerl, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, issued the following statement on today’s expanded drought declaration and proclamation of a state emergency by Gov. Gavin Newsom and his call for Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 15%:

“While the San Diego region is thankfully drought-safe this summer due to sound planning and decades-long ratepayer investments in new water supplies and storage and adoption of water conservation as a way of life, we must also be part of the statewide movement now underway to address water supply challenges created by drought and climate change in other parts of California.

“The Water Authority strongly supports the governor’s call for the public to voluntarily cutback water use by 15% in order to allow local, regional and state water agencies to plan and take the steps necessary under these changed conditions to maximize the availability of limited water supplies going forward, through the investment of state funding and implementation of other provisions of the Governor’s Proclamation of a State Emergency and Executive Order N-10-21 calling for water conservation.

“The Water Authority will be working closely with our member agencies and with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California over the next several days, weeks and months, to design and implement strategies to maximize water supply development in collaboration with Governor Newsom and state agencies, in order to protect California.”

Information about the Water Authority’s water-use-efficiency programs is at www.watersmartsd.org/.

Sweetwater Authority Board Approves $68 Million Budget for Fiscal Year 2021-22 and Ensures Customers Water Reliability in the Face of Drought

Chula Vista, Calif. – The Sweetwater Authority Governing Board approved the budget for fiscal year 2021-22 at its June 9, 2021 meeting with a net zero impact to customer rates.

FRS II-water project-Mission Trails Regional Park-water infrastructure

Water Project in Mission Trails Park More Than 50% Complete

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Mission Trails FRS II water project is now more than halfway complete.

The project will upgrade the Water Authority’s untreated water system in Mission Trails Regional Park. When finished in 2022, the upgrades will provide more reliable water delivery to treatment plants that serve the central and south sections of San Diego County.

Construction began in March 2020 just as the coronavirus pandemic began. As an essential infrastructure project, construction on the water project continued during the pandemic.

The project includes construction of a new 5-million-gallon underground covered tank, flow control facility and pipeline connections. The largest component of the project is the building of the underground tank called a flow regulatory structure (FRS II) which will be used to balance flows in the aqueduct system.

Roof pour begins on water project

One June 11, the pouring of concrete to create the roof for FRS II began. FRS II will be the second underground water tank in the park – both work to efficiently move water through the region.

Construction efforts are also underway to build the new flow control facility. Once construction is complete, the work area will be graded to its previous contours and revegetated with native plants – many seeded from plants within the park itself.

New construction activities have begun about a half mile north of the FRS II. This most northern construction site will be used to connect the water flowing through the Water Authority’s pipelines to the FRS II.

Some trails closed for construction safety

To keep trail users safe, some trails are closed through early 2022 when work is complete. Signs are posted to clearly mark the closures, detours and provide a map to find alternative routes. In addition, the Water Authority created an interactive map showing the location of the closed trails. Go to www.sdcwa.org/mission-trails-FRS to view the map and learn more about the project.

Mission Trails FRS II water project construction

Construction crews formed and poured the walls of the Flow Regulatory Structure in December 2020. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority