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Gary Croucher-Board Chair-San Diego County Water Authority-Primary

Building a Collaborative Vision for San Diego County

We welcome the new year with heavy hearts about the recent events in our nation’s Capitol and a renewed commitment to civility and respect at every level of government.

At the same time, we are maintaining our concentration on our priorities for the year, which are numerous and significant. I’m focused on advancing San Diego County’s interests as we continue to fulfill our mission of making sure that our region has safe and reliable water supplies at an affordable price, which is critical to maintaining our economic competitiveness and sustaining our wonderful quality of life.

Here’s some good news about how the Water Authority is putting San Diego County first in 2021:

  • As part of our commitment to meeting some of the strictest environmental regulations in the world, the Water Authority and Poseidon Water have launched a state-of-the-art project evaluating intake screen technologies at the Claude “Bud” Lewis Desalination Plant, which has served more than 65 billion gallons of locally produced water over the past five years. Crews are testing both active screen and passive screen technologies in Agua Hedionda Lagoon to complete the full-scale project by the end of 2023.
  • We are updating our Urban Water Management Plan, which is a critical part of meeting the long-range water needs of the San Diego region for both normal years and dry years. This planning document is increasingly important given the increasingly unpredictable impact of climate change. The planning process is, of course, a collaborative effort with our 24 member agencies as we account for their local supplies and demand projections.
  • Our low-cost supplies of conserved water from the Imperial Valley are the foundation of our diversified supply portfolio. With Board direction, staff has launched the next phase of a study to explore a new system to deliver those supplies because initial studies show it could be most cost-effective than the current system and mutually beneficial for our partners in the valley. The study will only advance if it benefits the region by providing cost savings for ratepayers.
  • As the regional economy recovers, we are working hard to protect ratepayers by maintaining a focused and strategic budget. It’s a tough balance, but we are working hard to find the right combination of near-term and long-term funding priorities in these challenging times.
While I’m glad to put the old year behind us and welcome 2021, I’m certain there will be many challenges and opportunities ahead. I’m committed to keeping you informed along the way, and to working with our Board, member agencies, stakeholders, regional leaders and ratepayers to create innovative solutions. In my 20-plus years on the Water Authority Board, we’ve never shied away from big and bold ideas – and 2021 will be no exception.
Gary Croucher-Board Chair-San Diego County Water Authority-Primary

Building a Vision of Regional Strength Through Collaboration

If more than three decades in the fire service taught me anything, it’s that we are always stronger together. This has never been more clear than over the past several months, as the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have worked together to ensure an affordable, safe and reliable water supply, as San Diego County works to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. I truly believe we are stronger when we roll up our sleeves and work together. As we used to say on the fire lines: You go, we go.

We know how to do this because we’ve been doing it for more than 75 years. Working together, the Water Authority and its member agencies have built a water supply that supports our economy and quality of life and protects us from shortages in times of drought and emergencies. Our diversified supply, including major conservation investments in the Imperial Valley, is held up as a statewide and nationwide model.

The Water Authority plays a critical role as the region’s long-term water planning agency and wholesale water provider for 3.3 million residents and our $245 billion economy. We take the long view because we’re responsible for ensuring a safe and reliable water supply for our children and grandchildren. That’s a challenging task in our semi-arid region with few natural water resources, requiring us to look decades ahead to weigh complex options that serve the region’s water ratepayers and taxpayers.

As the newly elected Chair of the Water Authority, my number one priority will be to support critical long-term planning initiatives to ensure that water and facilities are in place to support future generations at an affordable cost. I plan to do this working in collaboration not only with the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies, but also with other regional agencies such as the Imperial Irrigation District and Metropolitan Water District. The Water Authority will also be working with key stakeholders, including environmental, business and other civic and philanthropic groups.

In taking the helm, I also want to recognize the work by General Manager Sandy Kerl, including her leadership through the myriad challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. She is responsible for day-to-day operations at the Water Authority and for guiding a talented staff of about 250 employees, most of whom are now working and sheltering in place. Sandy and her leadership team worked especially hard to limit rate increases during the pandemic, and will be looking for new ways to protect ratepayers as we head toward 2021.

In closing, I want to assure you that you can count on me in the spirit of, “you go, we go!” The Water Authority stands behind our 24 member agencies and the commitment to providing an affordable, safe and reliable water supply now, and for future generations. At the end of the day, I am confident that San Diego County is, and will remain, stronger together.

The El Camino Real infrastructure improvement project has reached its midway point and will be complete in Spring 2021. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

El Camino Real Infrastructure Project Reaches Milestone

The Olivenhain Municipal Water District project to replace aging water infrastructure along El Camino Real in Encinitas has now reached the halfway point. After getting underway in March 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the project is making steady progress. District officials expect the entire project to be completed in Spring 2021.

During the El Camino Real Potable Water Pipeline Replacement and Green Bike Lane Striping Project, OMWD is replacing approximately 4,700 linear feet of existing 12-inch diameter potable water pipeline along North El Camino Real from Encinitas Boulevard to Garden View Road, and approximately 650 linear feet of existing 12-inch diameter pipeline between Via Molena and Mountain Vista Drive. Water service lines and fire hydrant laterals served by the existing pipelines are also being replaced.

The two pipelines were originally installed in 1961 and 1974, and were fast approaching the end of their lifespan.

El Camino Real infrastructure project – ensuring water supply reliability

The pipeline replacement will reduce water loss and prevent emergency shutdowns due to leaks. This is vitally important for water conservation and to ensure water supply reliability for businesses and residents.

“OMWD has a robust water loss prevention program in place which reduces costs associated with water loss and emergency repairs in addition to conserving one of our most precious resources,” said OMWD Board Director Christy Guerin. “This project is a big undertaking, but it is absolutely important to the health and safety of the community.”

Bike lane striping reduces inconvenience to residents

The El Camino Real infrastructure project will work through five phases and is expected to be completed by Spring 2021. Graphic: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

“OMWD and the city work closely together to find opportunities like these where we can streamline projects and reduce the inconvenience  they may cause to residents,” said Guerin, who is also the vice chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors and former Encinitas mayor and councilmember.

Bike lanes included in El Camino Real infrastructure project

The pipeline replacement is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The City of Encinitas’ green bike lane portion of the project will begin at that time.

The green bike lane portion of the project will provide traffic calming measures, including improvements to safety and mobility for bicyclists along North El Camino Real from Encinitas Boulevard to Leucadia Boulevard by restriping and narrowing travel lanes. In addition, green-colored striping will augment some areas on the bike lanes and new signage and pavement markings will be installed.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District is implementing the lane restriping portion of the project on behalf of the City of Encinitas as an efficiency measure, which is taking place concurrently with the pipeline replacement project.

Collaboration on infrastructure improvements

The two agencies have combined what would normally be two separate, unrelated infrastructure improvement projects into a single effort to improve operational efficiency and reduce the temporary inconvenience of disruptions to area residents and businesses.

“These improvement projects are important for the continued success and safety of the surrounding areas,” said Encinitas Councilmember Joe Mosca. “We understand that anytime you are working in the road, especially in high-traffic areas, there can be traffic and noise impacts. That is why the City of Encinitas and OMWD are working together closely to minimize the time we need to be out there and keep any impacts to the public at a minimum.”

Overnight work

As daytime traffic has returned to normal levels, the City of Encinitas requested work hours be shifted back to overnight. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

As daytime traffic has returned to normal levels, the City of Encinitas requested work hours be shifted back to overnight. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

At the start of the project, Encinitas requested that work be done at night to further reduce traffic impacts. During the stay-at-home order, work could be completed during daytime hours due to significantly reduced traffic levels. However, as traffic has returned to normal levels, the City requested work hours be shifted back to overnight.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District officials continue to work closely with Encinitas officials to monitor the project’s impact on traffic on a week-by-week basis and modify the schedule as needed. Both public agencies and the project contractor Teichert Energy and Utilities Group continue to adapt and respond to opportunities to mitigate impacts to the surrounding community while maintaining efficiency.

Project updates are on the water district’s website.

Loveland Reservoir-Firefighter Helicopter-Valley Fire-Sweetwater Authority

Water Agencies Assist in Fighting Valley Fire

The Sweetwater Authority and the Otay Water District collaborated with multiple agencies during the recent Valley Fire in San Diego County. Water infrastructure played a key role in the firefighting effort.

Cooperation and collaboration are critical elements during wildfires. Both water agencies worked with multiple responders, including U.S. Forest Service firefighters, CALFIRE and SDG&E, to ensure the safety of crews and keep a safe, reliable water supply flowing for their customers.

The Valley Fire started September 5, southeast of Alpine in the Cleveland National Forest. Before it was fully contained on September 24, the wildfire burned 16,390 acres and destroyed at least 30 homes, according to officials with the Cleveland National Forest.

Loveland Reservoir plays key role in firefighting efforts

Water agency infrastructure, employees and the public were directly threatened. The fire started in Alpine near the Sweetwater Authority Loveland Reservoir. Employees and anglers at the reservoir had to be evacuated.

Reservoir water was used throughout the firefighting efforts. Designated as critical infrastructure, Loveland was protected by fire crews, who used bulldozers on the property to create fire breaks.

Sweetwater Authority also made water tankers available to provide drinking water to crews and other agencies working the fire.

Valley Fire-Water Drop-Sweetwater Authority-Alpine

A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop on the Valley Fire near Alpine in September 2020. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

Infrastructure at Loveland Reservoir to protect water quality and provide for recreation was protected and did not sustain damage during the fire.

“We are grateful to the firefighters who worked tirelessly to protect Loveland Reservoir,” said Sweetwater Authority General Manager Tish Berge. “This reservoir is crucial in providing local water and keeping water rates low for our customers.”

The region was in the early stages of a prolonged heatwave when the fire started. The San Diego Union-Tribune reporters covering the fire wrote on September 5:

El Cajon hit 114 degrees and Alpine reached 113 — the highest temperatures ever recorded in those communities — while Ramona got to 112 and San Diego State University topped out at 105, according to the National Weather Service.

By Saturday night, fire fighters were working to control a wildfire that grew to more than 1,500 acres in the rural Japatul Valley area of East County, threatening homes and forcing evacuations.

“We’re throwing everything at it,” said Cal Fire spokesman Kendal Bortisser, as teams used helicopters and air tankers to make water drops. “It is going to be an extreme-attack fire. It is nothing we are putting out tonight.”

Otay Water District urges energy conservation

The Otay Water District safely curtailed electric power at its facilities during the Valley Fire as requested by SDG&E to help alleviate fire and weather concerns.

In addition to the prolonged heatwave and the Valley Fire, SDG&E continued to monitor potential high fire risk weather conditions. Those conditions may have forced SDG&E to shut off power to reduce the risk of a wildfire. Prior to the Valley Fire, Otay encouraged customers in its service area to safely conserve energy.

“We believe that any actions a local water agency like the Otay Water District can take to help SDG&E during heatwaves and the fires contributes to the region’s safety as a community,” said Otay Water District General Manager Jose Martinez.

Fighting wildfires involves cooperation from many agencies. The Valley Fire is another example of how water agencies, and water infrastructure, are key parts of those efforts. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

ValleyFire-InciWeb-Sweetwater Authority

Area covered by the Valley Fire in San Diego County, September 2020. Graphic: InciWeb

The local chapter of the American Public Works Association honored the Pipeline 5 relining project for the successful collaboration between the Water Authority, contractor, local agencies and nearby communities. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Major Relining Project Honored by the American Public Works Association

The San Diego and Imperial Counties Chapter of the American Public Works Association recently recognized a San Diego County Water Authority pipeline relining project for its excellence as a public works project. The award commends the successful partnership between Water Authority staff, the contractor and local agencies working together to complete this critical repair to maintain the reliability of the regional water supply.

Relining project covers 12,300 feet

Pipeline 5 was relined from the point of delivery with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to Sage Road in the Fallbrook and Rainbow communities in north San Diego County. The $24.7 million project was completed in July 2019 and relined approximately 12,300 feet of Pipeline 5, a 96-inch large-diameter regional pipeline.

30-year pipeline relining program rehabilitates aging pipes

Relining is a cost-effective method to repair pipelines and extend their service life with less impacts to the community and environment than if a traditional pipe replacement is performed. The relining process avoids digging up miles of pipeline, which would take significantly more time and resources, as well as impact associated streets and driveways for a long period of time.

“The Water Authority’s asset management program used an acoustic fiber monitoring system to help perform evaluations of the pipeline and prioritize this portion for rehabilitation,” said Jerry Reed, director of engineering at the Water Authority. “Our staff collaborated with stakeholders in Fallbrook, San Marcos and Rainbow, including staff at our member agencies and nearby residents to ensure project success.”

The project work areas were surrounded by residential homes and farms, heavily traveled public streets and a local retirement community.

Close coordination with multiple agencies ensured there were no impacts to water deliveries. Open communications with local residents regarding project schedule ensured no incidents occurred with local traffic.

Proactive asset management program rehabilitates crucial water infrastructure

The relining project was part of the Water Authority’s proactive and innovative asset management program to rehabilitate and reline pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipe within the Water Authority’s conveyance system to ensure continued supply reliability.

The local APWA chapter chose the project based on criteria that included superb planning, efficient design and construction management techniques to complete the project on schedule, within a cost-effective budget and adherence to regulatory requirements. It was also judged on the degree it enhanced a public service or facility, the quality of community relations or actions to minimize public impacts, safety precautions taken to protect lives and property, environmental impact mitigation measures and other accomplishments under adverse conditions.

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Recycled Water Expansion Project is Project of the Year

Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s Recycled Water Pipeline Extension 153A was recognized September 10 as a 2020 Project of the Year by the San Diego and Imperial County Chapter of the American Public Works Association at its virtual awards event. The pipeline extension connected the Surf Cup Sports youth soccer fields in San Diego to OMWD’s recycled water distribution system. By allowing Surf Cup to convert the irrigation of 55 acres of grass fields to recycled water, OMWD has reduced potable water demands for irrigation by up to 100 million gallons per year.

Recycled water-Olivenhain Municipal Water District-APWA-collaboration

Olivenhain Municipal Water District Recycled Water Expansion Project is Project of the Year

Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s Recycled Water Pipeline Extension 153A was recognized September 10 as a 2020 Project of the Year by the San Diego and Imperial County Chapter of the American Public Works Association at its virtual awards event.

The pipeline extension connected the Surf Cup Sports youth soccer fields in San Diego to OMWD’s recycled water distribution system. By allowing Surf Cup to convert the irrigation of 55 acres of grass fields to recycled water, OMWD has reduced potable water demands for irrigation by up to 100 million gallons per year.

“OMWD’s board is honored to receive this award for a collaborative project, which expanded the use of recycled water while protecting the environment,” said OMWD Board Treasurer Larry Watt. “Additionally, state grant funding helped pay for the project, reducing costs for our ratepayers.”

Project of the Year will save up to 100 million gallons of potable water annually

The project involved the installation of 1,600 feet of 8-inch PVC pipeline that required specialized drilling and interagency cooperation to be completed. The pipeline needed to cross the San Dieguito River, causing design, permitting, and construction obstacles. OMWD’s design team used horizontal directional drilling to install the pipeline more than sixty feet below the river bottom.

Horizontal directional drilling reduces not only surface area damage, but also environmental impacts from construction site dust, making it less impactful to nearby habitat and communities than traditional excavation work.

Interagency cooperation benefits wildlife

OMWD worked with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on a streambed alteration agreement to ensure the protection of fish and wildlife habitat. OMWD also worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect nesting birds such as the federally listed clapper rail and barn owl.

By OMWD taking proactive steps, such as daily biological sweeps of the project and inspections of the trenchless process, there was no adverse impact to habitat or species in the project area.

City of San Diego, Santa Fe Irrigation District collaboration with OMWD

Interagency cooperation was also required for the project. The property is served water by Santa Fe Irrigation District and owned by the City of San Diego. While SFID did not have nearby recycled water infrastructure, it wanted to provide Surf Cup fields with a drought-resilient water supply. The OMWD pipeline project meets that need.  The San Diego City Council approved a permanent utility easement allowing crews to access the property.

Grant funds support regional water management efforts

California’s Department of Water Resources awarded $202,300 for the project in Proposition 84 funding, which is administered by water wholesaler San Diego County Water Authority through the Integrated Regional Water Management program. The San Diego IRWM Program supports collaborative water management to increase regional self-reliance throughout California.

APWA is a professional association of public works agencies, private companies, and individuals dedicated to promoting public awareness through education, advocacy, and the exchange of knowledge. The APWA San Diego and Imperial County chapter annually recognizes the best public works projects and professionals in San Diego and Imperial Counties. The Project of the Year award is also intended to highlight the collaboration and cooperation between public and private agencies, contractors, and consultants, to complete public works projects.

Another Washington Dam Removal — and 37 More Miles of Salmon Habitat Restored

PILCHUCK RIVER, near Granite Falls, Snohomish County — Washington’s dam-busting summer is still rolling, with two more dams coming down on the Pilchuck River, opening 37 miles of habitat to salmon for the first time in more than a century.

The $2 million dam removal project is a collaboration between the City of Snohomish and Tulalip Tribes, and will benefit multiple species of salmon, including threatened chinook salmon, crucial food for endangered southern resident killer whales.

It’s the state’s second dam teardown project in two months. In July, the city of Bellingham blew up its Nooksack Diversion Dam on the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River, opening 16 miles of habitat for salmon, including chinook.

San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Charting a Long-Term Water Strategy for San Diego County

During my nearly two years as chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors, I have seen firsthand the regional benefits of decisions made by our predecessors to secure water supply reliability. I cannot count the number of times I have been thankful for all the board members, regional stakeholders, staff and supporters in decades past who wrestled with challenges and made tough decisions to invest in big ideas and projects. From water supplies and water storage to pipelines and water treatment, these decisions have resulted in water supply security for our region.

While the prudent plans of the past benefit current and future generations, we must continually grapple with the uncertainties of the future given the decades-long lead time for major infrastructure projects. One of my mantras as Board chair has been to focus not just on today, but the next 25, 50, and even 75 years. We know that new infrastructure investments will be necessary, and they take time to plan and build. The challenge is how best to balance the costs, benefits, and uncertainties.

Regional Conveyance System

That’s why more than a year ago, our Board authorized a technical feasibility study to look at whether building our own conveyance system to transport our locally controlled regional water supplies from the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement (Imperial Valley) could be cost-competitive with other options. The initial findings, released in June, confirm that is the case and offer a preview of what would be needed to build a conveyance system for meeting the region’s long-term water needs.

In coming months, the Board will decide whether to move the study to the next phase. This next phase will look in-depth on financing and costs – and more importantly mutually beneficial partnerships designed to reduce costs of improving regional water management. These partnerships might include joint ventures with Water Authority member agencies, the Imperial Irrigation District, Mexico, agriculture, the State of California through its Salton Sea Management Plan, tribal governments, renewable energy developers, public-private partnerships and more.

Currently, Water Authority staff is reviewing a second independent analysis of the June study, sponsored by some of the Water Authority’s member agencies. It is vitally important that we take the time to digest new information and different perspectives, and perhaps incorporate their suggestions in the next phase of our study, especially as we look toward a project of this size and magnitude that will be paid for over many generations.

Even after reviewing the voluminous data, I expect that there will be a variety of opinions about how to proceed. We all recognize that it is inherently difficult to forecast both costs and benefits over several decades for this project or any other, which is why we have taken measured steps.  Should the study move to the next stage, the process will include many future off-ramps for the Board in case better alternatives emerge.

At every stage, our Board should be committed to a thoughtful, fulsome assessment, never shying away from the need to cooperatively, collectively and civilly engage on these important questions with real benefits – and perhaps consequences – for our children and grandchildren. This is fundamental to the civic process, and critical to charting our region’s course as we have been doing for more than 75 years at the Water Authority.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.

FPUD Awarded Grant for Indirect Potable Reuse Pilot Project

The state’s Department of Water Resources has a grant program for Integrated Regional Water Management projects, and the most recent award of grants includes $687,500 to the Fallbrook Public Utility District for an indirect potable reuse pilot project.

DWR officially awarded $15 million in grant funds to the San Diego County Water Authority, July 8. The SDCWA will use $1,440,000 for regional water use efficiency programs, and $920,180 will be used by the CWA to administer the grants.