As California coastal cities look for methods to avert the harsh realities of the state’s second drought in a decade, desalination has returned as a hot topic. In San Diego County, the drought makes the argument that the controversial choice to build a coastside desalination plant was correct. The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant opened in Carlsbad in 2015. It supplies water to the San Diego County Water Authority, a wholesale agency that supplies about three-quarters of the water used within its 3.3 million population service area for 24 member agencies.
The San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors May 27 approved the Water Authority’s 2020 Urban Water Management Plan for timely submission to the state. The plan highlights how regional investments in a “water portfolio approach” to supply management and a sustained emphasis on water-use efficiency mean that San Diego County will continue to have reliable water supplies through the 2045 planning horizon – even during multiple dry years.
The Board approved the final plan following a public hearing on March 25 and a 60-day public comment period which ended May 6. The final 2020 UWMP will be submitted to the California Department of Water Resources by the July 1, 2021, deadline.
“Successful efforts to create a reliable water supply coupled with the development of new local sources by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies ensure that the region will weather dry times over the next two decades,” said Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher. “We continue to collaborate with our member agencies on investments in infrastructure and local supply sources to benefit the region’s ratepayers now and in future years.”
Collaboration with member agencies
The Water Authority started the current UWMP process in September 2018, coordinating closely with its 24 member agencies, most of which must submit their own plans to the state. Member agencies provided input into the final plan as part of the Water Authority’s ongoing effort to align local and regional projections as closely as possible while still following applicable guidelines and using regional models. The plan’s long-range demand forecast shows an increase in regional demands of less than 1% per year through 2045. This change in demand is consistent with the change forecasted by other large water suppliers in the state, including the City of San Diego and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Multiple supply and demand projections factor into Urban Water Management Plans, which are mandated by the state to ensure sufficient supplies over 25 years. The plans are not used to set water rates; rates are set annually based on multiple financial factors at the time, not long-term projections about water supplies.
Water supply availability
Urban Water Management Plans are dictated by statutory guidelines, Water Authority Board direction and an agreement with the San Diego Association of Governments to use its regional growth forecast. The plans also support state laws that link approval for large housing developments to water supply availability.
By law, the plans must be updated every five years. Per state guidelines, the Water Authority’s Urban Water Management Plan includes:
- Projected water demands under normal weather and dry weather scenarios
- Conservation savings information
- A process to conduct an annual water supply and demand assessment
- Supply reliability analysis
The demand forecast accounts for changes in socio-economic factors, such as the number of projected housing units, the mix of single-family and multi-family dwellings, and employment growth.
Investments in local water supply
Conservation projections account for continued adoption of water-use efficiency measures, compliance with landscape water-use ordinances for new residential construction, and continued installations of sustainable landscapes at existing homes. Since 1991, San Diego County ratepayers have conserved more than 1 million acre-feet of water, and per capita potable water use in the region decreased nearly 50% between fiscal years 1990 and 2020.
The 2020 UWMP also highlights the value of the Water Authority’s long-term strategy to invest in highly reliable and locally controlled supplies from the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant and the nation’s largest conservation-and-transfer agreement, which provides high-priority, low-cost water from the Colorado River.
In addition to the UWMP, the Water Authority also regularly updates its Regional Water Facilities Optimization and Master Plan, which focuses on the infrastructure necessary to meet projected long-term demands, and its Long-Range Financing Plan. Those documents work together to ensure the right mix of supplies and facilities to meet the region’s needs at an affordable cost.
As the drought deepens throughout California, San Diego County has postured itself to make it through dry spell conditions as a result of planning and mitigation efforts.
After experiencing a severe drought in the early 1990s, San Diego County officials went to work on diversifying its water supply. At the time, the region was hit with 50% supply reductions because it relied almost entirely on a single source. Since then, however, the San Diego County Water Authority has taken a varied approach. According to the authority, the region has added a new transfer of conserved agriculture water from Imperial Valley and completed the All-American and Coachella Canal lining projects to receive conserved water from the Colorado River.
“The Water Authority’s draft 2020 Urban Water Management Plan shows that regional investments in a ‘water portfolio approach’ to supply management and a sustained emphasis on water-use efficiency mean that San Diego County will continue to have sufficient water supplies through the 2045 planning horizon – so the region’s residents and economy remain safe even during multiple dry years,” the authority told 10News.
Poseidon Water’s controversial proposal for a desalination plant in Huntington Beach won a key permit Thursday, April 29, when the Santa Ana Regional Water Board cast a split vote approving a compromise less stringent than the environmental terms proposed at board’s April 23 hearing.
Poseidon, which has been working on the project for 22 years, now needs a permit from the state Coastal Commission before it can negotiate a final contract with the Orange County Water District to buy the water. And, in the wake of the regional board’s decision, there’s likely an additional obstacle, as opponents of the project said they plan to appeal.
April 22, 2021 – The San Diego County Water Authority and the Vallecitos Water District have reached agreement over pipeline repairs and how to measure water deliveries while moving ahead as partners to ensure long-term water supply reliability. The Water Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday approved terms of a settlement with Vallecitos designed to end litigation filed in 2020. Vallecitos’ Board of Directors previously approved the terms.
Recommended terms for a permit to build Poseidon Water’s controversial desalination plant in Huntington Beach would make it impossible to get financing for the $1.4 billion project, according to the developer.
Drought is back in California. Federal and state agencies are warning of potential water shortages in the months ahead. Because of investments made by the San Diego County Water Authority, its member agencies and the region’s water ratepayers, San Diego County is safe from the threat of multi-year droughts.
Drought is back in California. Federal and state agencies are warning of potential water shortages in the months ahead. Because of investments made by the San Diego County Water Authority, its member agencies and the region’s water ratepayers, San Diego County is safe from the threat of multiyear droughts.
“We are now facing the reality that it will be a second dry year for California and that is having a significant impact on our water supply,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth in early April. “The Department of Water Resources is working with our federal and state partners to plan for the impacts of limited water supplies this summer for agriculture as well as urban and rural water users. We encourage everyone to look for ways to use water efficiently in their everyday lives.”
California is better prepared for drought than in the past. Following the 2012-2016 drought, DWR enacted many programs focused on managing the state’s water through a strategic, integrated approach with a strong emphasis on water use efficiency and conservation.#californiaforall pic.twitter.com/9D6qUyCHsF
— CA – DWR (@CA_DWR) April 1, 2021
The San Diego region relies far less on supplies from Northern California than in previous decades. A severe drought in the early 1990s forced the region to confront the fact that continuing to provide safe and reliable water demanded a diverse portfolio of supplies instead of near-total reliance on a single source.
“We have sufficient water supplies whether it’s a normal year, which means normal rainfall,” said Jeff Stephenson, water resources manager at the San Diego County Water Authority. “A single dry year. Or a period of five straight dry years. Under those scenarios we have more than sufficient water supplies to meet the needs of the region.”
“The Water Authority has sufficient water supplies whether it is a normal year or multiple dry years,” said
San Diego County Water Authority Water Resources Manager Jeff Stephenson. https://t.co/So1C7X0r0x #cawater #cawx #WaterResiliencePortfolio
— San Diego County Water Authority (@sdcwa) April 13, 2021
Investments and planning pay off
Stephenson credits three decades of efforts by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies to diversify water sources, including contracts for water transfers with the Imperial Irrigation District and the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, as well as the development of additional water storage capacity in the region.
There are also several water reuse or recycling projects in development throughout San Diego County. The region’s dependence on imported water supply will decrease as these local supply sources are developed and become operational.
Approximately 43,000 acre-feet of recycled water is expected to be reused within the Water Authority’s service area annually by 2025. As the new and expanded potable reuse plants come online, they are projected to produce more than 112,000 acre-feet per year of new drinking water supplies by 2045, enough to meet nearly 18% of the region’s future water demand.
“Our member agencies throughout the region have developed more local supplies, such as recycled water,” Stephenson said. “In addition, the member agencies are developing potable reuse projects, including the city of San Diego’s pure water program which comes online in the future, and all of those supplies really make the region much more able to withstand drought periods.”
This collaborative effort between @PadreDam, @helixwater, @CityofElCajon and County of San Diego
✔️ Guard against drought
✔️ Protect the environment ♻️
✔️ Economize costs for clean, safe, drinking waterhttps://t.co/EeGicfI7J2 pic.twitter.com/WEEDMcVLMr
— EastCountyAWP (@EastCountyAWP) March 31, 2021
Revised drought contingency plan
As a result of the persistent drought conditions, and in accordance with its permit for the long-term operation of the State Water Project, DWR has submitted a revised Drought Contingency Plan to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The plan provides updated hydrologic conditions and outlines areas of concern for the joint operations of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project, water quality, and environmental impacts.
CW3E End of Winter Summary: Total precipitation during WY 2021 has been well below-normal across much of California. Drought conditions have persisted over Northern CA and worsened elsewhere in the state.
— CW3E Scripps (@CW3E_Scripps) April 7, 2021
In late-March, the State Water Resources Control Board mailed approximately 40,000 notices to water right holders, warning of persisting dry conditions and asking them to plan for potential shortages. Officials said the warnings, a result of two years of below average precipitation and below average state reservoir levels, will prompt early action to help minimize short term drought impacts.
“Planting crops and other decisions that are dictated by water supply are made early in the year, so early warnings are vital,” said Erik Ekdahl, deputy director for the Water Board’s Division of Water Rights. “These letters give water users time to prepare and help minimize the impacts of reduced supplies on businesses, farms and homes.”
The agency suggested in the letter that agricultural water users can implement practical actions now to improve their drought resilience, including reducing irrigated acreage, managing herd size, using innovative irrigation and diversifying water supply portfolios. Urban water users can conserve by putting in drought-resistant landscape, reducing outdoor irrigation and replacing older house fixtures and appliances with more efficient ones.
Sierra snowpack water equivalent really plummeting at the moment–down to 40% of average from 46% less than a week ago. High elevation snow showers poss. next 48 hours, but nothing that will meaningfully affect the extremely early snowmelt that is occurring this yr.#CAwx #CAwater https://t.co/Gb94Na8npA
— Daniel Swain (@Weather_West) April 13, 2021
Increasing local supply sources
The San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies continue to increase local supply sources and make investments to ensure a plentiful, safe, and reliable water supply for the region’s 3.3 million people and its $245 billion economy.
“Current conditions are a reminder of why the Water Authority and its member agencies have invested in locally controlled water sources and facilities such as dams and pipelines that can move water when and where it’s needed,” said the Water Authority’s Stephenson.
Ever since the drought of the early 1990s, the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have been leading advocates for water-smart strategies such as low-flow toilets, low-water landscapes and other conservation tactics. One result is that per capita water use in the San Diego region is down by more than 50% over the past three decades.
California could be facing a dry summer after two dry winters, but there shouldn’t be a huge impact on local supplies.
California water officials have already cut in half the amount of water they expect to deliver from the state water project.
That could be a major cut for central valley farmers and other water users that rely heavily on the Sacramento Delta for their water.
NRG Energy began demolition of the 400-foot Encina Power Station stack this week. The apparatus mounted around the top of the stack, known as the Mende Spider, is equipped with a jackhammer that breaks the concrete in a cylindrical pattern; the pieces of the stack fall through the center of the stack and are recovered from the bottom. NRG estimates the device will remove the stack about 10 feet per day. At this rate, NRG anticipates removing the top 350 feet of the Encina stack by the end of April. The remaining 50 feet will be removed from the ground by an excavator.