San Diego County Water Authority Hosts Colorado River Board of California

The San Diego County Water Authority will host water leaders from throughout Southern California March 15 for the monthly meeting of the Colorado River Board of California. On Tuesday, March 14, before the formal meeting, CRB board members will tour projects in the region that promote water resiliency.

The CRB will consider the complex water supply issues facing the Southwest U.S. during its meeting. San Diego Congressman Scott Peters is also scheduled to address the CRB.

Opinion: The West’s Weather Whiplash Should Not Influence Long-Term Water Management

There’s a water contradiction in the West with serious long-term water scarcity in low reservoirs and depleting groundwater tables, while California is in the middle of an extremely wet and snowy winter. As water levels in dangerously depleted Lake Mead and Lake Powell drop to record lows, California has experienced one of the wettest winters on record, with a statewide snowpack that’s almost 200 percent of normal for this time of year and a flooding risks from rain and snow events in March.

Colorado River Board of California-River Board-Tour

San Diego County Water Authority Hosts Colorado River Board of California

The San Diego County Water Authority will host water leaders from throughout Southern California March 15 for the monthly meeting of the Colorado River Board of California. On March 14, before the formal meeting, CRB board members will tour projects in the region that promote water resiliency.

The CRB will consider the complex water supply issues facing the Southwest U.S. during its meeting. San Diego Congressman Scott Peters is also scheduled to address the CRB.

Colorado River Board of California

The tour is part of a new program implemented by CRB, under the leadership of Chair JB Hamby, Imperial Irrigation District’s representative, and Vice Chair Jim Madaffer, the Water Authority’s representative and Water Authority board member, to build greater awareness of each CRB member agency’s efforts to serve their region and manage their river supplies.

“The Colorado River Board is so important to ensuring California’s voice is heard on the river, especially during these difficult times as we work to find collaborative solutions to the river’s challenges now and into the future,” Madaffer said. “We look forward to showcasing the local supply projects, online now and planned, that create water resiliency locally, but that also reduce the demand on the river.”

Established in 1937, the CRB is a state agency tasked with protecting the interests and rights of the state and its agencies in water and power resources from the Colorado River.

The Water Authority is a member of the CRB along with IID, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Coachella Valley Water District, the Palo Verde Irrigation District, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the California Department of Water Resources, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. CRB representatives, including two additional members from the public, are appointed by the Governor.

Colorado River Board-river board-Jim Madaffer

The facility tour and meeting is a new CRB program under the leadership of Chair JB Hamby, Imperial Irrigation District’s representative, and Vice Chair Jim Madaffer (L), the Water Authority’s representative and Water Authority board member. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Management of the river

The CRB represents California in discussions and negotiations with the Basin states, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, governmental agencies at all levels, tribes, and Mexico regarding the management of the river.

CRB members on the tour will see two local water supply projects generating water now – the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant – and planned – the East County Advanced Water Purification Plant.

Seawater desalination

The seawater desalination plant, the largest in the nation, came online in 2015 and recently passed the milestone of producing more than one-billion gallons of water for the San Diego region.

Colorado River Board-CRB-desalination-water supply

The San Diego County 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. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

“The desalination plant is not only important to our region, but the Water Authority believes the plant could be part of an overall long-term solution to support Lake Mead, California’s critical river reservoir, under a proposal we are considering to expand the plant,” said Madaffer.

Water purification

Now under construction, the East County Advanced Water Purification facility, or East County AWP, is a collaborative partnership between two Water Authority member agencies, the Padre Dam Municipal Water District and the Helix Water District, and the County of San Diego and City of El Cajon.

The plant is projected to generate a local, reliable and drought-proof drinking water supply utilizing state-of-the-art technology to recycle and reuse the region’s wastewater. The East County AWP is expected to produce 30% of East San Diego County’s water supply by early 2026, and is one of the innovative water purification facilities in the county either in operation or in development.

East County AWP-groundbreaking-June 2022-CRB-Colorado River Board

Scheduled to be operating in 2026, the East County AWP is projected to generate up to 11.5 million gallons per day of purified water— meeting approximately 30% of current drinking water demands for East San Diego County residents and businesses. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Following the facility tours on March 14, the CRB will hold its monthly meeting March 15 at the Water Authority’s Kearny Mesa headquarters in San Diego. The meeting is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. and is open to the public.

(Editor’s note: The Helix Water District and Padre Dam Municipal Water District, are two of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the San Diego County region.) 

Opinion: Holding Firm on Colorado River Water is Right Move

There is an old saying in the water world that it is better to be upstream with a shovel than downstream with a law book, which is the position California finds itself in as it stands apart from its neighbors on the Colorado River in negotiations over the use of the river’s water.

On Jan. 31, representatives for the six other basin states submitted a proposal to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, describing the measures by which the supply deficit on the Colorado River should be closed in the near term.

Jim Madaffer-Vice Chair Colorado River Board of California-Colorado River

California Water Agencies Submit Colorado River Modeling Framework to Bureau of Reclamation

California water agencies that rely on the Colorado River on January 31, proposed a modeling framework for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to evaluate as it considers actions to help stabilize reservoir elevations and protect critical infrastructure to ensure the Colorado River system can continue to support 40 million people, nearly 6 million acres of agriculture, and Tribes across seven states and portions of Mexico.

The modeling framework outlines a constructive approach to achieve additional water use reductions while protecting infrastructure, prioritizing public health and safety, and upholding the existing body of laws, compacts, decrees, and agreements that govern Colorado River operations (known collectively as the Law of the River). The approach builds on the California agencies’ commitments announced last fall to voluntarily conserve an additional 400,000 acre-feet of water each year through 2026 to protect storage in Lake Mead and help stabilize the Colorado River reservoir system.

California’s proposed framework

California’s proposed framework seeks to protect Lake Mead elevation of 1,000 feet and Lake Powell elevation of 3,500 feet by modifying some parameters governing reservoir operations, maximizing the impact of existing plans and voluntary conservation actions, and increasing cutbacks if Lake Mead elevations decline. It also protects baseline water needs of communities across the West by prioritizing water supplies for human health and safety. The proposal was carefully developed to enable workable phased water use reductions and ensures protection of adequate water volumes in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

“The alternative provides a realistic and implementable framework to address reduced inflows and declining reservoir elevations by building on voluntary agreements and past collaborative efforts in order to minimize implementation delays. California’s alternative protects critical elevations and uses adaptive management to protect critical reservoir elevations through the interim period,” JB Hamby, chair of Colorado River Board of California and California’s Colorado River Commissioner, wrote in a transmittal letter to Reclamation.

The approach differs from a modeling proposal submitted to Reclamation on January 30 by the six other basin states. The six-state proposal would direct the majority of water use reductions needed in the Lower Basin to California water users through a new apportionment method based on “system and evaporative losses.” The proposal directly conflicts with the existing Law of the River and the current water rights system and mandates cutback without providing tools to manage reductions.

QSA-Colorado River-modeling framework-USBR

In October 2003, the San Diego County Water Authority, Coachella Valley Water District, Imperial Irrigation District, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, State of California and U.S. Department of the Interior completed a historic set of agreements to conserve and transfer Colorado River water.

Shared process to update guidelines

For the past several months, California water users have sought a timely, practical and implementable solution with other Lower Basin users that can be implemented over the next three years to protect critical elevations in Lake Mead while longer-term changes are negotiated to update 2007 Interim Guidelines that will expire at the end of 2026. Suggestions to fundamentally change the Law of River are appropriately addressed through this shared process to update the guidelines.

California’s water agencies remain committed to working with all Colorado River basin states to take urgent, fair, and achievable action now to avoid unacceptable risks to communities, farms and economies in California and the rest of the basin.

For decades, California has been a leader in managing its Colorado River water resources and collaborating in basin-wide efforts to more effectively operate and manage the reservoir system and to incentivize water conservation as demands have increased in the face of shrinking supplies due to climate change.

In 2003, California permanently reduced its use of Colorado River water from about 5.2 million acre-feet annually to its basic apportionment of 4.4 million acre-feet, a permanent annual reduction in water use of about 800,000 acre-feet. The reduction in use resulted from implementing a combination of agricultural and urban conservation activities.

Since 2003, water users in California have taken significant actions to conserve Colorado River water, adding over 1.5 million acre-feet and 20 feet of elevation of conserved water to Lake Mead since 2007. California water users committed to further conservation to bolster storage in Lake Mead through the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. California has invested billions of dollars in urban and agricultural conservation across Southern California, through programs that reach virtually every Colorado River water user in the state.

California has “done its part” and “willing to do more”

“Twenty years ago, California adopted the largest water conservation-and-transfer agreement in U.S. history that not only supports the bulk of our nation’s food system but also sustains the environment. This multi-billion-dollar conservation-focused framework – the Quantification Settlement Agreement – is the blueprint for other states to follow. California has done its part and is willing to do more, but it’s time for the other states to step up and create their own conservation programs that sustain the quality of life in their communities,” said Jim Madaffer, vice chair of the Colorado River Board of California, representing the San Diego County Water Authority.

“We can help the entire Southwest”

“For over 20 years, Metropolitan has met the challenge of reducing our use of Colorado River water, and we are committed to doing more now. But we must do it in a way that does not harm half of the people who rely on the river – the 19 million people of Southern California. We must do it in a way that does not devastate our $1.6 trillion economy, an economic engine for the entire United States. We must do it in a way that can be quickly implemented, adding water to lakes Mead and Powell without getting mired in lengthy legal battles. We must do it in a way that maintains and strengthens partnerships on the river, allowing us to work together to build longer term solutions. The proposal presented today by California does all of this by equitably sharing the risk among Basin states without adversely affecting any one agency or state. The plan presented yesterday, which shut out California, does not. California knows how to permanently reduce use of the river – we have done it over the past 20 years, through billions of dollars in investments and hard-earned partnerships. We can help the entire Southwest do it again as we move forward,” said Adel Hagekhalil, general manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

“Balanced and implementable plan to address monumental challenges”

“The Colorado River – Imperial Valley’s only source of water – supports far more than our rural disadvantaged community as it provides for a robust agricultural industry that feeds millions of people and provides food security for this nation. California, and particularly the Imperial Irrigation District, is working to be part of the solution, however we also believe in upholding the Law of the River and not shouldering the burden of supply limitations for states and agencies that have outgrown their water rights. California has spent the past two decades successfully working together to resolve intra-state supply and demand imbalances to sustain the Colorado River. Since the signing of the Quantification Settlement Agreement, the largest ag-to-urban water conservation and transfer agreement in U.S. history, IID’s water management programs have generated over 7.2 million acre-feet in support of the Colorado River system. Today, IID and its California partners have proposed a balanced and implementable plan that begins to address the monumental challenges we face with the ongoing Colorado River drought,” said Henry Martinez, general manager, Imperial Irrigation District.

“Committed to reaching a 7-basin state consensus”

“Historically, CVWD and our agricultural community have invested heavily in its irrigation delivery system to minimize water loss, including canal lining projects, a closed pipe irrigation distribution system and installing drip irrigation. We have prioritized the efficient use of Colorado River water over the long term. We also took action last year with other California agencies to voluntarily identify a collection of Colorado River water conservation and reduction actions to save 400,000 acre-feet annually through 2026. We support our California partners and are committed to reaching a 7-basin state consensus on a framework for additional water use reductions through 2026,” said Jim Barrett, general manager, Coachella Valley Water District.

“Part of the solution”

“One-hundred and forty-six years ago, the original developers of our Palo Verde Valley filed and were granted the very first water rights to Colorado River water. Secured by those rights, farmers and farm workers have invested multiple generations of farm loans and hard work to produce food and fiber for consumers. Surrounding our agriculture are small rural cities that depend exclusively upon Colorado River water for their domestic supply. Farmers and landowners in Palo Verde Irrigation District want to be part of a solution to the current mismatch of supply and demand on the River in a manner that honors existing Public Law, and Administrative Law,” said Bart Fisher, president, Palo Verde Irrigation District Board of Trustees.

Quechan Tribe: “Stewards of the River”

“The Colorado River has been the lifeblood of the Quechan people since time immemorial, and we have a deep and abiding responsibility to be good stewards of the River – for the Tribe and its members, for the species and ecosystems that it sustains, and for the benefit of our fellow tribes and non-Indian neighbors throughout the Basin. It is why we have always fought for and will continue to defend our water. The modeling proposal submitted by the State of California to the Bureau of Reclamation for inclusion as part of its development of the SEIS reflects a meaningful effort to address the hydrologic challenges facing the Basin while respecting the senior water rights of the Tribe and others and ensuring that the Colorado can continue to exist as a living river,” said Quechan Tribal Council President Jordan Joaquin.

Colorado River Board of California

Established in 1937, CRB consists of agency representatives from the Water Authority, IID, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Coachella Valley Water District, Palo Verde Irrigation District, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Additional representatives include the directors of the California Department of Water Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife, along with two public representatives.

Seven counties in Southern California receive water and hydroelectric energy from the Colorado River. Colorado River water is used for drinking water by over 19 million people in Southern California and irrigates over 600,000 acres of agricultural lands that produce fruits, vegetables,and other crops that help feed our nation’s families.

(Editor’s Note: Jim Madaffer has been the San Diego County Water Authority’s CRB representative since 2019, and is serving a four-year term as vice chair following his election on January 11 during the CRB meeting in Ontario, Calif. He joined the Water Authority Board in November 2012 representing the City of San Diego and served a term as Board Chair.)

Read more about the Colorado River:

The River’s Changing Math

Predicting the amount of water the Colorado River can provide in a given year has always been a challenge. The river’s flow is famously erratic, dictated by the size of the often-fickle Rocky Mountain snowpack and other variables such as soil moisture and changes in temperature. The old expectations of the Compact signers is giving way to a new reality on the river. Over the last century, the river’s flows in the Upper Basin have dropped by 20%. Scientists have pinned warming temperatures as the main cause of the disappearing flows and predict the trend will worsen as the Upper Basin, source of most of the river’s water, becomes even hotter and drier.

California Releases Its Own Plan for Colorado River Cuts

Imperial Irrigation District responds to six-state consensus on Colorado River

California is Lone Holdout in Colorado River Cuts Proposal

In California’s Imperial Valley, Farmers Brace for a Future With Less Colorado River Water

Colorado River and Lake Mead Are Rising, but Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

New for 2023, qualified residents can take advantage of the in-person “Designer At Your Door” technical design assistance program. Photo:

Landscape Makeover Program Adds New ‘Designer At Your Door’ Service

There is a new opportunity for San Diego County residents who want to save water through the WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program: “Designer At Your Door.”

This new in-person service offers on-site and in-studio technical design assistance from landscape industry professionals for qualified residents. As 2023 begins with cool, rainy weather, now is the ideal time to attend a virtual three-hour workshop to start your makeover.

This new iteration of the WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program features the original award-winning WaterSmart curriculum delivered in three ways: special topic workshops available online and in-person; virtual skill-building videos; and in-person technical design assistance.

‘Designer At Your Door’ offers onsite help from landscape pros

“The WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program is responsive to changing times and the changing needs of regional residents,” said Joni German, Water Authority water resources specialist. “The Designer At Your Door service replaces our award-winning four-class Landscape Makeover Series with the same quality education, combined with additional one-on-one, on-site support. We believe our enhanced approach will help residents achieve water savings with a beautiful new landscape that suits their lifestyle.”

Frank Edwards had a complete plan after attending the Water Authority's WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series. Photo: Frank Edwards Padre Dam Landscape Makeover

Homeowner Frank Edwards had a complete plan after attending the Water Authority’s WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series. Photo: Frank Edwards

Requirements for new service; registration information

Participants must meet qualifying criteria to participate in the new “Designer At Your Door” service. This includes a living lawn with a minimum size, a working in-ground irrigation system, and a willingness to install a more sustainable landscape. They must also attend a minimum of five three-hour workshops to qualify. Read more about the Designer At Your Door program and its requirements here.

Registration is required for the online workshops. The 2023 workshop schedule starts on Saturday, January 14. Weekday workshops are held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., and Saturday workshops from 9 a.m. to noon. Register here.

Introductory webinars focus on specific landscape topics with a “do-it-yourself” approach. From plant choices and irrigation to design and maintenance, webinars offer timely help on upgrading landscapes with low-water use plants and personal design touches.

The results of Frank Edward's hard work. Photo: Padre Dam MWD

The results of Frank Edward’s hard work. Photo: Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Sustainable landcapes use less water

WaterSmart has helped regional residents convert more than 1.5 million square feet of turf into beautiful, sustainable landscapes that use less water and provide a lifestyle-friendly yard ideal for San Diego’s climate. New landscapes installed through the WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program have been proven to reduce water use by up to 37%.

San Diego County residents continue to take advantage of free online webinars offering step-by-step support to create a beautiful, water-efficient outdoor landscape. Webinar topics cover residential landscape design for the homeowner, plant palettes, healthy soil, irrigation retrofits, and streamlined landscape maintenance. More than 8,000 San Diego County residents have taken these courses to date.

These topics and more are covered in the program’s Video On Demand series. This series covers various landscape topics in short, entertaining, and instructional videos available 24/7.

Conservation gains plus rebates help offset investment

Deborah Brandt's landscaping before its makeover. Photo: Vista Irrigation District Vista 2021 Contest

Deborah Brandt’s landscaping before its makeover. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

Landscape watering accounts for more than half of a typical household’s water use in California. The Water Authority’s online classes can help residents create a drought-tolerant, water-efficient landscape with a design that maximizes enjoyment of the outdoor space. In addition, homeowners can save the time and expense required for ongoing turf maintenance.

Colorful, waterwise plants replaced a thirsty, labor intensive front lawn in Deborah Brant's winning landscape makeover. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

Colorful, water-wise plants replaced a thirsty, labor intensive front lawn in Deborah Brant’s winning landscape makeover. Photo: Vista Irrigation District

San Diego County homeowners, businesses, and organizations such as homeowners association (HOA’s) can receive between $2 and $4 per square foot to remove turf and replace it with low water-use plants better suited to our region’s climate. All customers are eligible for the base rebate of $2 per square foot. Learn more at

Some agencies offer additional funding, including the City of San Diego and the County of San Diego. Residents in unincorporated San Diego County may be eligible for additional incentives through the Waterscape Rebate Program.  

While San Diego County’s investments in supply reliability continue to protect the region, national weather models suggest drought, and a hotter, drier climate, will continue to strain water resources across the West and increase water conservation.

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority sustains a $240 billion regional economy and the quality of life for 3.3 million residents through a multidecade water supply diversification plan, major infrastructure investments and forward-thinking policies that promote fiscal and environmental responsibility. A public agency created in 1944, the Water Authority delivers wholesale water supplies to 24 retail water providers, including cities, special districts, and a military base.)

UN Warns Two Largest US Water Reservoirs at ‘Dangerously Low Levels’

The United Nations warned on Tuesday that the two biggest water reservoirs in the United States have dwindled to “dangerously low levels” due to the impacts of climate change.

The situation has become so severe that these reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are on the verge of reaching “dead pool status” — the point at which water levels drop so low that downstream flow ceases, according to the U.N. Environment Program.

Opinion: A Water Crisis is Here, the West Must Act Aggressively, Collectively

A billboard in St. George urges residents to use less water — “Utah is in a drought.”

Other nearby billboards in Washington County advertise one of the largest outdoor swimming pools in the world and a soon-to-arrive luxury surfing community with three artificial lakes.

It certainly doesn’t feel like this arid city – hosting the nearby headwaters for two important tributaries to the Colorado River — is in a drought.

California Drought Official Quits, Blasting Newsom for ‘Gut Wrenching’ Inaction

In his time at the California State Water Resources Control Board, Max Gomberg has witnessed the state grapple with two devastating droughts and the accelerating effects of climate change.

Now, after 10 years of recommending strategies for making California more water resilient, the board’s climate and conservation manager is calling it quits. The reason: He no longer believes Gov. Gavin Newsom and his administration are willing to pursue the sorts of transformational changes necessary in an age of growing aridification.

Tracking the California Drought

Californians are living in the state’s driest period on record. Officials have urged people to conserve as reservoirs run low and demand exceeds a supply stressed by climate change.

A large share of the state’s water is used for agriculture, and growers have seen water deliveries slashed during the drought. State regulators track water use in cities and towns across the state, collecting monthly data from more than 400 urban suppliers that serve about 37.2 million Californians.