This region has made tremendous strides toward diversifying its water portfolio. In Riverside County, groundwater desalination is moving forward to take full advantage of all available sources of water. Plans for Water Banking, which will take Northern California water imported during wet years to restore local aquifers for use during dry years, are also progressing.
The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors last week approved a contract to study the viability of a new regional water conveyance system that would deliver water from the Colorado River to San Diego County and provide multiple benefits across the Southwest.
The $1.9 million contract was awarded to Black & Veatch Corporation for a two-phase study. The engineering firm conducted similar studies for the Water Authority dating back to 1996 but looked at “single use” in those studies.
“A regional system to move our independent Colorado River supplies from the Imperial Valley directly to San Diego County could be more cost-effective, while also providing multiple benefits for California and the Southwest,” said Kelly Rodgers, director of the Water Authority’s Colorado River Program. “The study will assess the potential for new regional and public-private partnerships and funding opportunities.”
Three potential pipeline routes studied
The Water Authority currently pays the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to transport Quantification Settlement Agreement water through the Colorado River Aqueduct to San Diego.
The pipeline under study would be designed at a capacity to convey the QSA water, which in 2021 will reach its full amount of 280,000 acre-feet of water annually. The current Water Transfer Agreement between the Imperial Irrigation District and the Water Authority continues to 2047. But both agencies can agree to extend the transfer another 30 years to 2077.
Three potential routes for the pipeline will be considered as part of an initial screening of the alternatives during the first phase of the study. The study will also consider elements such as permit and environmental regulations, and risk, cost and economic analysis.
Phase 1 of regional water system study will take one year
The first phase of the study, projected to cost $1.3 million, is expected to be completed in summer 2020. The Board will then determine whether to go forward with phase 2 of the study.
Pending Board approval, the second phase will include the final screening of alternatives based on refinement of site layouts, pipeline alignment and tunneling requirements, and risk, cost and economic analysis. The second phase will cost $590,00 and is expected to take one year to complete.
The Board previously approved funds for this study at its June 27 meeting.
Conveyance routes would connect to All-American Canal
As the study gets underway, there are three routes under consideration. Each of those routes would connect to the tail end of the All-American Canal where it meets the Westside Main Canal in the southwest corner of the Imperial Valley.
Two of the routes would follow a southern corridor between the Imperial Valley and San Diego, with one route over the mountains paralleling the U.S./Mexico border and the other tunneling through the mountains. Both routes would end at the San Vicente Reservoir in Lakeside.
The third and northernmost route would follow the Westside Main Canal toward the Salton Sea, then flow past Borrego Springs, and through the mountains. It would eventually connect to the Water Authority’s Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant in San Marcos.
The pipeline system is one of a handful of visionary ideas being discussed by San Diego County water leaders to enhance partnerships and solutions that make sense locally and more broadly as part of Governor Newsom’s Water Portfolio Program to develop resiliency statewide.
As the San Diego County Water Authority celebrates its 75th anniversary this month, Board Chair Jim Madaffer offered a fresh vision of the region’s water future and outlined new efforts to ensure water supply reliability for generations to come at the National Albondigas Political Society of San Diego meeting in Chula Vista.
Madaffer pointed to the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District as an example of the creative thinking and political leadership needed to secure reliable water supplies not only for San Diego County, but across the southwestern U.S by working cooperatively.
“We were able to work out a deal with the Imperial Irrigation District for 200,000 acre-feet of water,” said Madaffer, noting that IID has priority rights to Colorado River water supplies. “How smart to have this insurance policy for the region.”
Madaffer said one of the key efforts ahead is securing storage rights for the San Diego region’s water at Lake Mead, a strategy that could offer benefits to the San Diego region and more broadly across the Southwest by minimizing the chances that Lake Mead will slip in formal shortage status.
Creative concepts explored to improve water supply reliability
Madaffer also outlined some of the concepts being explored by the Water Authority and its member agencies to improve water supply reliability with more diverse water supply sources, along with engineering and political creative thinking.
Madaffer said the Water Authority’s Board of Directors is considering a study about constructing a regional pipeline system to move the San Diego region’s independent water supplies from the Imperial Valley directly to San Diego. He said the options offer additional advantages to farmers in Imperial County and the Salton Sea.
“I’m a regionalist,” said Madaffer. “I’m interested in what we can do to make sure all of our member agencies are supported, and make sure water delivery works for the entire region.”
Graphic: Water Authority
San Diego is Brought to You by Water
Displaying a chart showing the change in water supply sourcing from 1990 to today, Madaffer asked, “Do we think we can insulate our region from the ravages of drought, so we aren’t depending on pipeline relining and several pipelines delivering imported water?”
He said the region’s approach includes a mix of investments, backed by efforts to use water wisely.
“We’re using less water today with 900,000 more people than we did back in 1990,” said Madaffer, calling it a conservation success story. “All our member agencies, plus each of you in this room, are responsible for helping make it happen.”
Madaffer also touted the region’s innovation culture. “From Qualcomm to BIOCOM to all of the technology we produce, we are a hotbed of innovation in the region,” he said. “If you remember our drought back in the 1990s, there were states trying to grab our people, saying ‘Hey, work in our state instead, because California is out of water.’ We’ve changed that narrative 100 percent … San Diego is Brought to You by Water.”