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Water Authority Prepares to Activate Water Shortage Contingency Plan

October 20, 2021 – The San Diego County Water Authority is preparing to activate Level 1 – Voluntary Conservation of its Water Shortage Contingency Plan in support of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s efforts to sustain California after two record-dry years. The agency’s 36-member Board of Directors will decide at its formal monthly meeting on Oct. 28 whether to activate the drought response plan, following today’s recommendation by staff.

Drinking water-desalination plant-water supply-drought

WaterSmart: Weathering Dry Times in San Diego County

News stories by national and regional media outlets highlighted the investments by the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies to create a plentiful water supply for the region, helping to weather dry times like the current drought.

The New York Times, Spectrum News 1, The Wall Street Journal and Wired Magazine are among several news organizations that have reported on the region’s water supply projects, current and future, that ensure the 3.3 million residents of San Diego County won’t be left high and dry during times of drought. The news stories also recognize the successful efforts by the region’s residents to significantly reduce water-wasting practices by embracing a “conservation ethic.”

Water supply in dry times

California-based reporter Jill Cowan visited the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant and the San Vicente Reservoir, among other locations, for her article in The New York Times. The story covers regional water supply projects and investments made by the Water Authority and its member agencies to ensure San Diego County would not be stuck “at the end of the pipe” during periods of drought.

 “There are no silver bullets anywhere,” said Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center, who noted San Diego’s strides. “They’re definitely in the upper echelon of these creative approaches.”

Chula Vista resident and Sweetwater Authority customer Paul Rodriquez was highlighed in the story as one of many county homeowners who are WaterSmart: Conserving water by yanking out turf for drought-tolerant landscaping and using water-efficient fixtures indoors.

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San Diego County Water Authority Water Resources Manager Jeremy Crutchfield (L) explains the reverse osmosis process to The New York Times Reporter Jill Cowan (R) at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

“Let’s Diversify”

Spectrum News 1 Reporter Sarah Pilla wrote about the region’s water supply history and how an historic drought led to investments that created a diverse water supply portfolio:

Back in the drought of the ’90s, 95% of San Diego’s water came from one source, and they faced 30% cuts for 13 months.

“Of course being at the end of a pipeline, when there’s little water available, you are at high risk. So, our community came together and said let’s diversify,” Kerl said.

Fast-forward 30 years later, and the San Diego County Water Authority has multiple streams of water sources in its portfolio, including the groundbreaking Carlsbad Desalination Plant that utilizes ocean water to provide the region with about 10% of its drinking water.

Video and story: https://bit.ly/3DWFM1F

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San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl (L) talks with Spectrum News 1 (LA) Reporter Sarah Pilla, at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Diverse portfolio of resources

Wired Magazine writer Matt Simon focused on the science of water recycling and the Pure Water San Diego project.

If that all sounds like a rather convoluted way to get drinking water, that’s because the American West is facing a rather convoluted climate crisis. San Diego—and the rest of Southern California—have historically relied on water from Northern California and the Colorado River. But they’ve always been at the end of the line. The river hydrates 40 million other people in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, and it is withering under a historic drought, a harbinger of even worse water scarcity to come as the climate warms.

So San Diego has to figure out how to do more with less water. The Pure Water program aims to provide more than 40 percent of the city’s water from local sources by the year 2035 by reusing water recycled from homes and businesses. (That means water that has flowed through sinks, showers, toilets, and washing machines.) “We’re diversifying the portfolio,” says Todd Gloria, San Diego’s mayor. “We’re heavily dependent upon water that comes from very far away, and that’s a problem that we have to address.”

Read more: https://bit.ly/30xU8qF

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Pure Water San Diego Associate Engineer Anthony Van guides a virtual tour of the demonstration facility. Photo: City of San Diego

Dry Times and Cutbacks

Reporter Jim Carlton, with The Wall Street Journal, visited San Diego County In June 2021, reporting on the differences in water supply and drought conditions in California: “California’s Drought Leads to Cutbacks in Marin County but Not in San Diego

The pain of a two-year drought drying up the American West isn’t being felt evenly across the country’s most populous state.

That is because Southern California water agencies have for decades invested in new ways to diversify their supplies and recycle what they get, say people who study and work with water in the West. In Northern California, meanwhile, a history of more plentiful rain and snow meant many communities were less prepared for the latest drought and now more homes and businesses must cut back.

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Jim Carlton, reporter with The Wall Street Journal (L) listens as San Diego County Water Authority Principal Engineer Jeff Shoaf describes the San Vicente Dam raise during Carlton’s visit to the San Vicente Reservoir in June 2021. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

“Plenty of water”

The Southern California News Group published an editorial, “SoCal’s water planning offers lesson for state” on October 19:

It’s beyond ironic that the driest, most-populated parts of California are in reasonably good shape whereas the less-populated rainiest parts of the state are in dire straits. San Diego, for instance, had so much water during the last drought that it had to release some of it from its reservoirs. It has plenty of water during this current drought.

Statewide Drought Emergency Declared

Water Shortage Contingency Plan Level 1

Following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Oct. 19 extension of the statewide drought emergency to all counties in California, the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors voted unanimously to activate the agency’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan. That plan includes a call for increased voluntary conservation by San Diego residents. CBS 8 Reporter Heather Hope reported on the Board action and tips for how people can reduce water use.

In support of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s water conservation efforts following California’s two record-dry years, the San Diego County Water Authority activated its “Level 1,” or Voluntary Conservation of its Water Shortage Contingency Plan.

“We’re trying to achieve 15% to be consistent with the governor’s request of 15% voluntary conservation. It’s using what you have efficiently and not wasting,” said San Diego County Water Authority Water Resources Manager Jeff Stephenson.

How San Diego Gets Its Drinking Water

Reporter Jill Cowan with The New York Times, provided a tour of the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, in a story published October 29, 2021.

Whenever California is pummeled by drought — as is still very much the case despite recent rain — a lot of people find themselves asking, “What if we got water from the ocean?”

In San Diego County, it’s already happening at a $1 billion facility by the beach.

Recently, as I reported on San Diego’s decades-long quest for water stability, I visited the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the largest such facility in the country, to see how it works.

Pure Water Oceanside

Reporter Leah Pezzetti, with ABC 10 News San Diego, visited the City of Oceanside’s Pure Water Oceanside project on Oct. 29 for a look at the process to purify wastewater into drinking water.

San Diego County has been planning ways to increase its sustainable water supply and one of the planned methods is through turning wastewater into potable water. There are three sites planned in the county and the first one, Pure Water Oceanside, is set to open before the end of 2021. 

(Editor’s note: This story was updated on October 30. The Sweetwater Authority the City of San Diego, and the City of Oceanside are three of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Logo landscape design workshops

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Remains at Level 1 of Its Water Shortage Contingency Plan

Encinitas, Calif. — At its October 13 meeting, Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors received an informational report on water supply conditions. OMWD will remain at Level 1 of its Water Shortage Contingency Plan, which calls for voluntary conservation efforts.

OMWD moved out of a Level 2 Water Supply Shortage condition, which has mandatory water use restrictions, and down to Level 1, on July 20, 2016, as a result of a State Water Resources Control Board order allowing agencies to determine their conservation standard based on the ability to meet demands with existing supplies. Since July 20, 2016, OMWD has remained in Level 1.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Logo landscape design workshops

OMWD Wraps Up Year-Long Construction Project Along El Camino Real

Encinitas, Calif. — Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors unanimously approved today the filing of a notice of completion for the El Camino Real Potable Water Pipeline Replacement and Green Bike Lane Striping Project. After over a year of collaboration with the City of Encinitas, OMWD has officially turned the project over to the city. The city will now begin the repaving and bike lane striping portion of the project.

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Atmospheric Rivers Left California Mostly Dry in Water Year 2021

The Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, or CW3E, at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, released its report October 11 on atmospheric rivers during Water Year 2021.

The report, “Distribution of Landfalling Atmospheric Rivers over the U.S. West Coast During Water Year 2021: End of Water Year Summary” shows that more atmospheric rivers landed on the U.S. West Coast in Water Year 2021 than in Water Year 2020. But the majority of those storms reached the Pacific Northwest, not California, where drought conditions have impacted water supply.

“The report on atmospheric rivers shows the variability in weather across the state from year to year,” said Jeff Stephenson, Water Resources Manager with the San Diego County Water Authority. “Through our partnership with CW3E and the AR forecasting tools they’ve developed, it better prepares us in management of our water resources using regional storage. This storage, in conjunction with developing multiple water supply sources in the San Diego region, has prepared us for years when rainfall levels are below normal in the region.”

The summary report from CW3E

Water Year 2021 experienced a total of 69 landfalling ARs over the U.S. West Coast, 4 more than Water Year 2020.
• While WY 2021 experienced more ARs, a much larger majority of the ARs only impacted the Pacific Northwest.
• California only experienced AR conditions (IVT >250 kg m–1 s–1) from 36 separate ARs during WY 2021, compared to 43
during WY 2020.

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Distribution of Landfalling Atmospheric Rivers over the U.S. West Coast During Water Year 2021: End of Water Year Summary. Graphic: Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes

Fewer Atmospheric Rivers in California

The lack of AR activity over California for two consecutive water years has resulted in a substantial lack of precipitation.
• A large portion of California received <30% of the normal precipitation for both Water Year 2020 and 2021.
• Coastal Washington and Oregon was the only location in the Western U.S. to receive near or above normal precipitation
during both water years, which is also the region that received a majority of the AR activity.

California experienced strong or greater magnitude AR conditions only three times during WY 2020 and 2021 combined

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Atmospheric Rivers-CW3E-drought

The San Diego County Water Authority partnered with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, at UC San Diego in 2020 to better predict atmospheric rivers and improve water management before, during, and after those seasonal storms. The Center and its partners share best practices in forecast-informed reservoir operations, increased research around atmospheric rivers and droughts, and develop strategies for mitigating flood risk and increasing water supply reliability.

For additional details and graphics go to: https://bit.ly/3mKhkcR

Water Authority Wins National 2021 EPA WaterSense Excellence Award

October 11, 2021 – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the San Diego County Water Authority with a 2021 WaterSense Excellence Award for advancing water efficiency through its Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper, or QWEL, program. The Water Authority received one of 34 WaterSense awards last week at the national WaterSmart Innovations Conference in Las Vegas.

Desal Plant Operations Continue as State Starts to Install Barriers at Lagoon

CARLSBAD, Calif. (Oct. 7, 2021) – Poseidon Water and the San Diego County Water Authority issued the following joint statement in response to emergency response efforts following the recent oil spill off the coast of Orange County. No oil has been detected by the plant’s monitoring system.

“The San Diego County Water Authority and Poseidon Water appreciate precautionary efforts by state emergency response crews to install a protective boom at the mouth of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, which provides intake water for the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant. State agencies are also installing a second barrier near the plant intake.

“The Carlsbad Desalination Plant continues to operate normally with no oil detected at the site, and there are no plans to shut it down. If operational changes are required, the Water Authority could shift water deliveries to ensure continued water service to its member agencies countywide. Per State of California requirements in the facility’s drinking water permit, the desalination plant will shut down if the hydrocarbon concentration of source seawater reaches 300 parts per billion.

“We continue to monitor the situation closely, including ongoing testing for oil in the intake waters of the desal plant. And we continue to closely coordinate with the City of Carlsbad, the County of San Diego, Orange County, state agencies and others involved in the emergency response to ensure the plant remains a vital, drought-proof water source for San Diego County.”

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Desal Plant Operations Continue; Protective Boom Installed at Lagoon

(Editor’s note: As of Friday, October 8, the Carlsbad Desalination Plant continues operating at full production with no indication of oil in the feed water. As a precautionary measure, protective booms have been placed at several locations in the Aqua Hedionda Lagoon, including in front of the desalination plant intake).

Poseidon Water and the San Diego County Water Authority issued the following joint statement in response to emergency response efforts following the recent oil spill off the coast of Orange County. No oil has been detected by the plant’s monitoring system.

“The San Diego County Water Authority and Poseidon Water appreciate precautionary efforts by state emergency response crews to install a protective boom at the mouth of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, which provides intake water for the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant. State agencies are also installing a second barrier near the plant intake.

No oil detected

“The Carlsbad Desalination Plant continues to operate normally with no oil detected at the site, and there are no plans to shut it down. If operational changes are required, the Water Authority could shift water deliveries to ensure continued water service to its member agencies countywide. Per State of California requirements in the facility’s drinking water permit, the desalination plant will shut down if the hydrocarbon concentration of source seawater reaches 300 parts per billion.

“We continue to monitor the situation closely, including ongoing testing for oil in the intake waters of the desal plant. And we continue to closely coordinate with the City of Carlsbad, the County of San Diego, Orange County, state agencies and others involved in the emergency response to ensure the plant remains a vital, drought-proof water source for San Diego County.”

Drought-proof water supply

The Water Authority added desalinated seawater to its supply portfolio in 2015 with the start of commercial operations at the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant – the result of a public-private partnership in the coastal town of Carlsbad. The drought-proof supply reduces the region’s dependence on supplies that are vulnerable to droughts, natural disasters and regulatory restrictions.

Desalination uses reverse osmosis technology to separate water molecules from seawater. Water from the ocean is forced through thousands of tightly-wrapped, semipermeable membranes under very high pressure. The membranes allow the smaller water molecules to pass through, leaving salt and other impurities behind.

Landmark public-private partnership

In November 2012, the Water Authority approved a 30-year Water Purchase Agreement with Poseidon Water for the purchase of up to 56,000 acre-feet of desalinated seawater per year, approximately 10% of the San Diego region’s water demand.

Poseidon is a private, investor-owned company that develops water and wastewater infrastructure. Under the Water Purchase Agreement, Poseidon built the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, and a 10-mile conveyance pipeline to deliver desalinated seawater to the Water Authority’s aqueduct system.

For updates on the oil spill go to: https://socalspillresponse.com

Carlsbad Desalination Plant Maintains Safe Operations, Monitors Orange County Oil Spill

CARLSBAD, Calif. (Oct. 6, 2021) – Poseidon Water and the San Diego County Water Authority issued the following joint statement in response to the recent oil spill off the coast of Orange County:

“The oil spill has not affected the operations of the Claude ‘Bud’ Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant. The facility is San Diego County’s largest single source of locally produced drinking water, generating nearly 80 billion gallons of drought-proof water since operations started in December 2015.

“Water quality in Carlsbad’s Agua Hedionda Lagoon – the desalination plant’s intake source – is continually monitored for more than a half-dozen seawater parameters, including oil-in-water concentration. Per State of California requirements in the facility’s drinking water permit, the desalination plant will shut down if the hydrocarbon concentration of source seawater reaches 300 parts per billion. While there has been no indication of oil from Orange County reaching Carlsbad, the facility’s operating team will continue to closely monitor intake water quality.

“In addition, Poseidon Water and the Water Authority are working with local, state, and federal agencies to assess potential preemptive actions in case conditions change, including installation of a floating boom at the mouth of the lagoon. That would protect the lagoon for marine life and ensure the desalination plant can stay online, which minimizes the San Diego region’s demands on other water resources.”

In the new virtual reality video tour of the East County AWP, Kyle Swanson, East County AWP director helps lead participants on a guided tour of water facilities. Photo: East County AWP

Virtual Reality Video Tour for East County Water Project

A new 360-degree virtual reality video tour takes viewers through the planned East County Advanced Water Purification facilities. Participants are immersed in a guided tour of water facilities, where they can control their view by moving their computer mouse or smartphones to any direction in the video they want to see.

Viewers with a virtual reality headset for smartphones can take engagement one step further by stepping into the video. Locations visited in the virtual reality video tour include the Ray Stoyer Water Recycling Facility and the East County AWP Demonstration Facility in Santee, and Lake Jennings in Lakeside.

“Bringing this fun, easy to understand, and immersive tour to East County’s water and wastewater customers is an important and unique educational resource,” said Kyle Swanson, East County AWP director. “Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we averaged more than 1,000 people annually touring our facility, many of whom were eager students wanting to learn about this important water resource. This virtual tour helps to refill the learning need and will also be helpful while the East County AWP progresses towards the construction phase.”

Residents can participate in a guided virtual reality tour with a presentation and the opportunity to ask questions at 10 a.m., Tuesday, October 26. Sign up to reserve your place on the program’s Tours webpage.

Program representatives will also schedule opportunities for community groups, schools, and scouts to view the video using virtual reality goggles.

Creating a new sustainable drinking water supply

The East County AWP is a collaborative partnership between the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, Helix Water District, County of San Diego, and City of El Cajon. It will use sophisticated technology to provide 30% of current drinking water demands for East County residents. Photo: East County AWP virtual reality video tour

The East County AWP is a collaborative partnership between the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, Helix Water District, the County of San Diego, and the City of El Cajon. It will use sophisticated technology to provide 30% of current drinking water demands for East County residents. Photo: East County AWP

The East County AWP is a collaborative partnership between the Padre Dam Municipal Water District, Helix Water District, the County of San Diego, and the City of El Cajon. It will create a new, local, and sustainable drinking water supply using sophisticated technology to provide 30% of current drinking water demands for East County residents when it is completed in 2025, as much as 11.5 million gallons per day.

Water purification process

The program will use four advanced water purification steps to produce water that is near distilled in quality. After the advanced water purification process, the purified water will be blended with water in Lake Jennings and treated again at the R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant before being distributed into the drinking water supply. The project eliminates the need to send most of East County’s wastewater to the City of San Diego’s Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant, where it is treated and then discharged into the ocean.

The Padre Dam Municipal Water District currently imports 100% of its drinking water supply. It treats two million gallons per day at its water recycling facility for irrigation and non-potable uses.

(Editor’s note: The Padre Dam Municipal Water DistrictHelix Water District, and the City of El Cajon are three of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)