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 celebrated the agency’s 75th anniversary during today’s Board meeting, which included 20 proclamations honoring the agency for its service to the region dating back to 1944.
Cities across the region joined the state Assembly and Senate, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and other state and local leaders to formally mark the occasion. The San Diego City Council and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors even proclaimed today “San Diego County Water Authority Day” in honor of the agency’s legacy of water supply reliability.
75 years of service
“Starting with the historic first water deliveries in the 1940s, the Water Authority has partnered with our member agencies to build, operate and maintain the vital infrastructure that supports our region’s $231 billion economy and unparalleled quality of life,” said Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “Our collective investments have created extraordinary advances in water supply reliability that are sustained by the daily vigilance necessary to operate and maintain such a complex system.
“While today we celebrate the past, the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies continue to focus on the future by fostering innovative solutions to ever-changing water resource challenges,” Madaffer said. “Together, we will supply the San Diego region with safe and reliable water supplies for generations to come.”
Forward thinking on water
The Water Authority’s current forward-thinking efforts include developing water storage capacity in Lake Mead to provide additional drought resilience for San Diego and the Southwest.
The agency also is working closely with the City of San Diego to assess a potential pumped storage project at San Vicente Reservoir that could help meet clean energy goals and benefit water ratepayers. In addition, the Water Authority is analyzing the costs and benefits of a regional water conveyance system that could help San Diego County and the entire Southwest to more effectively manage water resources.
During today’s ceremonies, water agency, civic and business leaders noted the Water Authority’s profound impact on the San Diego region and wider water issues over the past 75 years.
- “A reliable water supply is critical for San Diego’s regional economy and for maintaining a competitive business climate. The business community applauds the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies for their leadership, and for increasing the county’s water supply reliability with investments that keep our economy growing.” — Mark Cafferty, president and CEO, San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.
- “It is a pleasure to celebrate the San Diego County Water Authority’s 75th anniversary. We share a common history and a common vision for water supply reliability that has been essential to the economic vitality and prosperity to all San Diegans. We look forward to strengthening our relationship to meet the future needs of San Diegans.” — Gloria D. Gray, chair, Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors
- “Farming is a foundational piece of our regional economy and quality of life – but it doesn’t happen without a reliable water supply. Our farmers are constantly innovating to use water more efficiently by adopting new technology and planting more-efficient crops.” — Eric Larson, executive director, San Diego County Farm Bureau
- “On behalf of the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors, I salute the San Diego County Water Authority on its 75th anniversary. Our two agencies are partners in the nation’s largest agriculture to urban transfer and in the process, we have forged a durable alliance at the Salton Sea. It is a relationship that the IID highly values.” — Erik Ortega, president, Imperial County Irrigation District Board of Directors
- “By combining a diversified set of water supply sources with greatly enhanced storage capacity, we are developing a more robust safety net for San Diego County.” — Jerry Sanders, president and CEO, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce
On June 9, 1944, San Diego voters approved the Water Authority’s formation under the County Water Authority Act. Imported water arrived three years later to slake the thirst of a growing population just weeks before local supplies would have run out.
The modern era of the Water Authority started during deep, drought-induced water supply cuts in the early 1990s. Since then, Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have deployed one of the most aggressive water supply diversification strategies in the nation to improve regional water supply reliability.
At the same time, the agencies have aggressively helped to reduce per capita water use so that the total regional water use today is well below 1990 levels despite significant growth in the population and economy.
75th anniversary milestones
The Water Authority reached several major milestones over the past two decades. They include:
- In 2003, Olivenhain Dam was the first major new dam built in San Diego in more than 50 years. At 318 feet, it was the tallest roller-compacted concrete dam at the time.
- In 2008, the Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant north of San Marcos began operations. It was the largest submerged membrane water treatment plant in the world when it was commissioned.
- In 2011, the San Vicente Tunnel and Pipeline Project – an 11-mile long, 12-foot diameter tunnel with an 8-1/2-foot diameter pipeline – created a link from the City of San Diego’s San Vicente Reservoir to the Water Authority’s Second Aqueduct, greatly improving the Water Authority’s ability to distribute water and store water in the reservoir.
San Vicente Dam raise
- In 2012, the Lake Hodges Hydropower Facility started serving the dual purposes of connecting the lake to the Water Authority’s aqueduct system and generating 40 megawatts of clean, on-demand electricity.
- In 2014, the San Vicente Dam Raise Project, the tallest dam-raise project in U.S. history, expanded the reservoir’s capacity by more than 157,000 acre-feet.
- In 2015, the $1 billion Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, distribution pipeline and related facilities started commercial operations as the largest seawater desalination project in North America.
- The Water Authority’s Asset Management Program, which includes a multi-year project to reline 82 miles of large-diameter prestressed concrete cylinder pipelines with new steel liners, helps to prevent pipeline failure and extend their lifespans by 75 years or more at significantly less cost than traditional pipeline replacement programs.
The Water Authority’s innovative efforts have been recognized nationally and internationally.
In 2017, for instance, the president of the American Society of Civil Engineers recognized the Water Authority’s Emergency & Carryover Storage Project for winning ASCE’s top international engineering award.
The same year, Water Authority was honored by the Association of California Water Agencies – the nation’s largest statewide coalition of water agencies – for innovation and excellence in water resources management with its addition of supplies from the Carlsbad Desalination Project. And in 2016, the Water Authority received a top national award from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies for its commitment to improving the region’s water supply reliability in a manner that balances economic, social and environmental needs.
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.”
The San Diego County Water Authority has partnered with San Diego singer and guitarist Jon Foreman of Switchfoot to create a series of videos highlighting the value of water to the region’s economy and quality of life.
From sustaining world-famous tourist destinations to making world-class guitars, the San Diego lifestyle wouldn’t be possible without clean and reliable water supplies delivered by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies.
“It takes a huge investment from the San Diego County Water Authority and its member agencies to maintain the pipes that deliver water across our region,” Foreman says in one of the videos.
Reliable water supply fuels San Diego economy
The video series includes virtual tours of the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, Olivenhain Dam and Reservoir, and the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon.
Foreman talks with Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., about the importance of water to some of the region’s biggest industries.
He also tours the Water Conservation Garden, where residents and businesses can learn how to use water efficiently and “make the most out of every drop.”
BRO-AM brought to you by water
The Water Authority is sponsoring Switchfoot’s annual BRO-AM beach festival, which is set for June 29 at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas.
The Water Authority’s Brought to You by Water outreach and education program is designed to convey the importance of safe and reliable water supplies for sustaining the region’s 3.3 million people and its $231 billion economy.
Starting in 2018, the Water Authority has highlighted some of the region’s core industries – tourism, manufacturing, brewing and agriculture – that would not exist without substantial investments in water supply reliability by the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies.
A report released today showed improvement in 2018 for the majority of 15 indicators used to measure San Diego County’s quality of life. The Equinox Project Quality of Life Dashboard measures and benchmarks several environmental and economic trends throughout the region.
The analysis highlighted the San Diego County Water Authority for developing water solutions for San Diego and the Southwest using a “portfolio approach.” One of the initiatives under that approach includes efforts to store water in Lake Mead on the Colorado River, which would benefit both San Diego County residents and many other river users.
The nonpartisan Equinox Project report is a source of public policy research and analysis to guide policymakers, planners and other officials, said Emily Young, executive director of The Nonprofit Institute at the University of San Diego, where the project is based.
Carlsbad City Councilmember @CoriSchumacher says the nonpartisan 2018 Equinox Quality of Life Dashboard Indicators released today is a valuable tool for policymakers and other leaders in #SanDiegoCounty See it at #WaterNewsNetwork https://t.co/AYbo6Ds2hw #cawater #QofL pic.twitter.com/A5H9juUeat
— San Diego County Water Authority (@sdcwa) June 13, 2019
Water use increased in 2018
“There’s no one indicator when you’re talking our quality of life in the San Diego region,” Young said. “And in fact, the whole point is all of these things are connected. If you’re talking about air quality, you really can’t talk about that if you’re not also talking about our transportation systems and the pollution generated from them.
“Whether we’re looking at an issue like water, which is very precious to the San Diego region, or other issues around transportation or housing, all of these are things that we’re measuring our progress on,” said Young.
Measuring quality of life
“Daily residential water consumption in San Diego County increased by 8.3% from 84 gallons per capita in 2017 to 91 gallons in 2018,” according to the report. “Water use has increased since the statewide water restrictions were lifted in 2017, though below pre-drought levels.”
Water use lower in 2019
Despite the slight increase in water use during 2018, residents continue to conserve compared to previous years.
“While extreme dry conditions contributed to increased residential water use in 2018, per capita water use was still lower than historical, pre-drought levels,” said Alexi Schnell, water resources specialist with the Water Authority. “Water use to date in 2019, a much wetter year, has been consistently lower than in 2018.
“There will always be fluctuations based on weather and other factors, but the San Diego region continues to embrace water-use efficiency, and per capita water use in the region is not forecasted to return to pre-drought levels for the foreseeable future,” Schnell added.
The report noted that “the San Diego region is making significant commitments to water efficiency and recycling” and has diversified local supply with the Claude “Bud” Lewis Desalination Plant in Carlsbad, the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant.
The massive desalination plant in Carlsbad that accounts for about 10 percent of the drinkable water in San Diego County is reportedly about to be sold for more than $1 billion to a subsidiary of an investment company based in Scotland, but the San Diego County Water Authority it does not expect a potential sale to affect customers in the area. Bloomberg News on Thursday quoted “people with knowledge of the matter” who said an affiliate of Aberdeen Standard Investments, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, is about to buy the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant and the deal may be announced as soon.
San Diego regional water quality regulators today issued a permit for the installation of new, technologically advanced and environmentally sensitive seawater intake and discharge facilities at the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.
The plant – and the new permit – support Gov. Gavin Newsom’s April 29 executive order for California “to think differently and act boldly by developing a comprehensive strategy to build a climate-resilient water system.”
Under the new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, the Carlsbad plant will continue producing about 50 million gallons a day of high-quality, drought-proof drinking water for the region as Poseidon Water and the San Diego County Water Authority develop a permanent, stand-alone seawater intake and associated structures.
Environmentally sensitive facility
The new intake-discharge system is needed for long-term operations of the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant, which started commercial production in December 2015 using water withdrawn from Agua Hedionda Lagoon for once-through cooling at the Encina Power Station. So far, it has produced more than 46 billion gallons of drinking water with reverse osmosis technology.
“The Carlsbad Desalination Plant is an invaluable asset for the state and region that helps us adapt to the changing climate and sustain a $231 billion regional economy,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “It is the most environmentally sensitive and technologically advanced plant of its kind in the nation – part of our commitment to collaborative projects and integrated water solutions for San Diego and the Southwest.”
Water supply sustainability
The closure of the power station in December 2018 led to temporary intake-discharge operations that will continue while new, stand-alone desal intake-discharge facilities are built. Conversion to stand-alone operations was anticipated in the 2012 Water Purchase Agreement between Poseidon, which owns and operates the desalination plant, and the Water Authority, which purchases the water for regional use. Currently, the plant provides about 10 percent of the region’s water supply.
“We are very thankful to the Regional Board for supporting the environmental enhancements of the Carlsbad project and water supply reliability for San Diego County,” said Poseidon CEO Carlos Riva. “This plant will continue to be a vital regional resource for decades to come and an example of how environmental stewardship can go hand-in-hand with water supply sustainability.”
Transition in three phases
With the permit in hand, the transition to the new intake and discharge facilities will be implemented in three phases:
- Temporary Operations – NRG, which owns Encina Power Station, continues to operate the water circulation pumps while an interim intake system is constructed.
- Interim Operations – Expected to begin in mid-2020, this phase uses new fish-friendly pumps as a replacement for the existing circulation pumps. A new, permanent screened intake system also will be designed and built in the lagoon during this phase of operation. The new intake will rely on innovative technology, including 1 mm screens that will further enhance marine life protection.
- Permanent Operations – The new submerged, screened-intake system is expected to be connected in late 2023, achieving the best available technology to minimize impacts to marine life in full compliance with the 2015 California Ocean Plan Amendment.
Once permanent operations begin, the Carlsbad Desalination Plant will be the first to comply with the 2015 Ocean Plan Amendment, designed to advance ocean water as a reliable supplement to traditional water supplies while protecting marine life and water quality.
Poseidon is also protecting the coastal environment by taking over responsibility for the preservation of Agua Hedionda Lagoon from NRG. As the lagoon’s steward, Poseidon Water is taking responsibility for ensuring the man-made lagoon continues to realize the life-sustaining benefits of an open connection to the Pacific Ocean through periodic maintenance dredging.
Dredging keeps sand from blocking the flow of ocean water in and out of the lagoon, maintaining its tidal circulation, which is needed to maintain a healthy marine ecosystem, support extensive recreational uses, sustainable aquaculture at Carlsbad Aquafarm, and a white seabass hatchery operated by Hubbs-SeaWorld. Dredging also helps replenish the sand on Carlsbad State Beach, which otherwise would revert to historical cobble-stone, with sand that is relocated from the lagoon to nearby shoreline.
Temporary operations are anticipated to cost about $6.5 million annually, increasing the cost of water from the plant in 2020 by about $135 per acre-foot. Permanent facilities are projected to cost between $66 million and $83 million. The Water Authority is seeking state grant funds to defray some of that cost.
The Water Authority purchases up to 56,000 acre-feet of water from the Carlsbad plant per year – enough to serve approximately 400,000 people annually. The plant is a major component of the Water Authority’s multi-decade strategy to diversify the county’s water supply portfolio and minimize vulnerability to drought or other water supply emergencies.
Poseidon Water, a national leader in the development of water supply and treatment projects using a public-private partnership approach, furthered its commitment to protect and preserve San Diego’s coastal environment by assuming stewardship of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad.
The Agua Hedionda Lagoon encompasses over 400 acres of marine, estuarine and wetlands habitat teeming with hundreds of fish, invertebrate and bird species. The lagoon has long been home to youth recreation activities, including the YMCA Aquatic Park (affectionately known to its patrons as “Camp H2O”), as well as popular activities for visitors of all ages, such as kayaking, swimming, canoeing and paddle-boarding. As the lagoon’s steward, Poseidon Water is taking responsibility for ensuring the man-made lagoon continues to realize the life-sustaining benefits of an open connection to the Pacific Ocean.
Maintaining healthy marine ecosystem
Poseidon Water is ensuring the ongoing vitality of this magnificent estuary through periodic maintenance dredging. Dredging keeps sand from blocking the flow of ocean water in and out of the lagoon, maintaining its tidal circulation, which is needed to maintain a healthy marine ecosystem, support extensive recreational uses, sustainable aquaculture (Carlsbad Aquafarm) and a white seabass fish hatchery (Hubbs-SeaWorld Fish Hatchery). Dredging also helps replenish the sand on Carlsbad State Beach, which otherwise would revert to historical cobble-stone, with sand that is relocated from the lagoon to nearby shoreline, ensuring the local beaches are attractive for local residents and visitors to enjoy.
“The Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation has been dedicated to providing direct access to nature while ensuring the environmental protection of the lagoon,” said Lisa Cannon-Rodman, chief executive officer of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation. “We are thrilled that Poseidon Water will continue in these efforts and can confidently say that the community will continue to experience the splendor of this unique environment for many years to come.”
Unique lagoon environment
Some of the uses that make up this unique environment include:
1. Man-Made Marine Estuary – Aqua Hedionda Lagoon is a man-made estuary consisting of 400 acres of inter-tidal wetlands and uplands that are home to a wide variety of fish, invertebrates, animals and birds.
2. Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant – The Carlsbad Desalination Plant produces over 50 million gallons of high-quality and climate-resilient drinking water each day, serving approximately 10 percent of the region’s water demand.
3. YMCA Aquatic Park – The YMCA Aquatic Park, better known as Camp H2O, is a summer camp geared towards children ages seven to twelve that offers affordable day camp activities including swimming, kayaking, boating and fishing. The camp plays an important role in educating youth about the precious marine environment and the need to preserve the lagoon for future generations.
4. Hubbs-SeaWorld Fish Hatchery – Hubbs-SeaWorld Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program include a 22,000 square-foot fish hatchery on the lagoon. The Program actively contributes to the restoration of the California white seabass population, adding over 350,000 juveniles annually. Hubbs-SeaWorld has begun to expand its marine restoration activities as a result of additional acreage donated by the Desalination Plant.
5. Recreational Boating – Boating remains one of the most popular lagoon activities for residents and visitors alike. California Water Sports offers expert lessons and rents a variety of boats, including kayaks, canoes and paddleboards to the public.
6. Carlsbad Aquafarm – The lagoon is home to the Carlsbad Aquafarm, Southern California’s only shellfish aquafarm, where over 1.5 million pounds of shellfish are sustainably harvested each year. The farm is a growing contributor to the $1.5 billion U.S. aquafarming industry and the San Diego region’s local economy.
7. Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation Discovery Center – Opened in 2006, the Discovery Center offers visitors an opportunity to learn about the lagoon’s native plants and marine life through exhibits and educational programs and hosts more than 8,700 local students each year.
“Agua Hedionda Lagoon plays a key role not just in our environment, but also Carlsbad’s quality of life and economy,” said City of Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall. “By ensuring the lagoon’s long-term preservation, Poseidon Water has once again demonstrated its commitment to Carlsbad and environmental sustainability.”
The Lagoon was previously maintained by NRG, owner of the now decommissioned Encina Power Station. The Carlsbad Desalination Plant is located on the same site as the Encina Power Station and utilizes the power plant’s historic intake and outfall facilities for the desalination process. As part of its co-location, Poseidon Water has long planned to succeed NRG as the lagoon’s steward.
With the decommissioning of Encina Power Station, the Carlsbad Desalination Plant is modernizing the existing intake facilities to provide include additional environmental enhancements to protect and preserve the marine environment.
“Our location along the shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon makes it a critical part of the Carlsbad Desalination Plant’s operations, which enables us to provide San Diego County with more than 50 million gallons of high-quality drinking water every day,” said Carlos Riva, Poseidon Water CEO. “We look forward to taking an even more active role in the protection and preservation of the lagoon so that we can all enjoy its recreational and marine resources now and for generations to come.”
Assuming responsibility for the lagoon is just the latest in Poseidon Water’s long history of environmental stewardship in California, by employing 100 percent carbon neutral desalination technology at its Carlsbad Desalination Plant – making it the first major infrastructure project in California to eliminate its carbon footprint – and committing to do the same at its proposed Huntington Beach Seawater Desalination Plant. These efforts continue to assist communities in becoming water independent and less susceptible to dangerous drought conditions, without any carbon emissions.