Drought-Water Supply Diversity-investments

Drought: Why Water Supply Diversity is Critical

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.”

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.”

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.

Pure Water Oceanside-Potable Reuse-Sustainability Sustainble Building Week

Construction is underway for Pure Water Oceanside, one of three potable reuse or recycling projects in San Diego County that will reduce the need for imported water while creating a sustainable, local supply. Photo: City of Oceanside/Jeremy Kemp

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Desal Plant-5th anniversary-Carlsbad Desalination Plant-drinking watr

The Carlsbad plant uses reverse osmosis to produce approximately 10 percent of the region’s water supply; it is a core supply regardless of weather conditions, and it is blended with water from other sources for regional distribution. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

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.

Reservoirs-Drought-Water Supply Diversity-DWR

“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 2021. Graphic: California Department of Water Resources

IID and Farmer Michael Abatti Square Off Over the Imperial Valley’s Water

Water is power in California’s Imperial Valley, and a years-long fight over allocations from the Colorado River to the agriculture-heavy region landed back in court on Friday. Attorneys representing local farmers and the Imperial Irrigation District squared off in front of a three-judge panel at the state appellate court level over a water-rights lawsuit expected to be decided in 90 days.

Climate Change Has Stolen More Than a Billion Tons of Water From the West’s Most Vital River

The Colorado River’s average annual flow has declined by nearly 20 percent compared to the last century, and now a new study has identified one of the main culprits: Climate change is causing mountain snowpack to disappear, leading to increased evaporation.

Four recent studies have found that up to half of the drop in the Colorado’s average annual flow since 2000 has been driven by warmer temperatures. Now, two U.S. Geological Survey researchers have concluded that much of this climate-induced decline — amounting to 1.5 billion tons of missing water, equal to the annual water consumption of 10 million Americans — comes from the fact that the region’s snowpack is shrinking and melting earlier. Having less snow to reflect heat from the sun, known as the albedo effect, creates a feedback loop, they say.

Blog: Imperial Valley Conservation Efforts Benefit San Diego, Southwest

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors visited the Imperial Valley January 30 for a day-long tour that highlighted areas critical to the agency’s Regional Conveyance System Study.

US Water Chief Praises Colorado River Deal, Sees Challenges

LAS VEGAS (AP) — States in the U.S. West that have agreed to begin taking less water next month from the drought-stricken Colorado River got praise and a push for more action Thursday from the nation’s top water official.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told federal, state and local water managers that abiding by the promises they made will be crucial to ensuring that more painful cuts aren’t required.

The river supplies 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming as well as a $5 billion-a-year agricultural industry.

New Analysis Spells Out Serious Legal Risk To Colorado River Water Users

As climate change continues to sap the Colorado River’s water, some users face serious legal risks to their supplies, according to a new analysis by researchers in Colorado and New Mexico.

Declining flows could force Southwest water managers to confront long-standing legal uncertainties, and threaten the water security of Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.

All-American Canal

Study to Explore New Regional Water Conveyance System

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors last week approved a contract to study the viability of a new regional water conveyance system that would deliver water from the Colorado River to San Diego County and provide multiple benefits across the Southwest.

The $1.9 million contract was awarded to Black & Veatch Corporation for a two-phase study. The engineering firm conducted similar studies for the Water Authority dating back to 1996 but looked at “single use” in those studies.

“A regional system to move our independent Colorado River supplies from the Imperial Valley directly to San Diego County could be more cost-effective, while also providing multiple benefits for California and the Southwest,” said Kelly Rodgers, director of the Water Authority’s Colorado River Program. “The study will assess the potential for new regional and public-private partnerships and funding opportunities.”

Three potential pipeline routes studied

The Water Authority currently pays the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to transport Quantification Settlement Agreement water through the Colorado River Aqueduct to San Diego.

The pipeline under study would be designed at a capacity to convey the QSA water, which in 2021 will reach its full amount of 280,000 acre-feet of water annually. The current Water Transfer Agreement between the Imperial Irrigation District and the Water Authority continues to 2047. But both agencies can agree to extend the transfer another 30 years to 2077.

Three potential routes for the pipeline will be considered as part of an initial screening of the alternatives during the first phase of the study. The study will also consider elements such as permit and environmental regulations, and risk, cost and economic analysis.

Phase 1 of regional water system study will take one year

The first phase of the study, projected to cost $1.3 million, is expected to be completed in summer 2020. The Board will then determine whether to go forward with phase 2 of the study.

Pending Board approval, the second phase will include the final screening of alternatives based on refinement of site layouts, pipeline alignment and tunneling requirements, and risk, cost and economic analysis. The second phase will cost $590,00 and is expected to take one year to complete.

The Board previously approved funds for this study at its June 27 meeting.

Map indicates three potential routes for a proposed regional pipeline system that would move Quantification Settlement Agreement water directly from the Imperial Valley to San Diego. Two of the routes (the light blue and purple lines) follow a southern route. The third proposed route (shown in both a yellow and darker blue line) follows a northern path. Graphic: Water Authority

Conveyance routes would connect to All-American Canal

As the study gets underway, there are three routes under consideration. Each of those routes would connect to the tail end of the All-American Canal where it meets the Westside Main Canal in the southwest corner of the Imperial Valley.

Two of the routes would follow a southern corridor between the Imperial Valley and San Diego, with one route over the mountains paralleling the U.S./Mexico border and the other tunneling through the mountains. Both routes would end at the San Vicente Reservoir in Lakeside.

The third and northernmost route would follow the Westside Main Canal toward the Salton Sea, then flow past Borrego Springs, and through the mountains. It would eventually connect to the Water Authority’s Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant in San Marcos.

The pipeline system is one of a handful of visionary ideas being discussed by San Diego County water leaders to enhance partnerships and solutions that make sense locally and more broadly as part of Governor Newsom’s Water Portfolio Program to develop resiliency statewide.

(L to R) State Senator Brian W. Jones, Water Authority General Manager Maureen Stapleton, and Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer

Stapleton Celebrated for Decades of Leadership in San Diego Region

State and federal dignitaries praised retiring San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Maureen Stapleton today for decades of public service and her achievements in securing safe and reliable water supplies for the region.

Stapleton announced her retirement from the Water Authority earlier this month, prompting several commendations during the Water Authority Board of Directors regular February meeting.

California U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a letter that she valued Stapleton’s expertise on water issues. “During your more than 40 years of public service, you have demonstrated a deep commitment to your profession and the region,” wrote Feinstein. “Under your skilled leadership, the Water Authority successfully developed water storage and conservation projects and oversaw construction of the nation’s largest desalination plant.

“Although your presence will be greatly missed, I am confident that your record of hard work and dedication will serve as a model for those who follow in your footsteps.”

Historic investments for San Diego

In a California legislative resolution, elected leaders representing San Diego County lauded Stapleton “for her long and distinguished record of professional service and for her outstanding civic leadership.”

The resolution highlighted Stapleton’s many achievements over 23 years at the helm of the Water Authority, including successfully negotiating the landmark 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement. It is the nation’s largest ag-to-urban water conservation-and-transfer agreement, and it remains a cornerstone of water management in the Southwest.

“As General Manager, Maureen Stapleton oversaw the greatest investment in large-scale regional water infrastructure in San Diego County history, including the first major new dam and reservoir in 50 years and the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant – an investment that provides significant protections for the San Diego region in the event of imported water supply emergencies and droughts.”

Under Stapleton’s guidance, the Water Authority also implemented cutting-edge urban water conservation programs that have helped to reduce per capita water use in the San Diego region by more than 40 percent since 1990. The Water Authority also significantly increased water supply protections for the region during droughts or other emergencies with $3.5 billion in investments. And, the Water Authority partnered with Poseidon Water to develop the largest seawater desalination plant in the nation.

Click here to view the resolution by the San Diego delegation.

‘She refused to suffer drought’

Former California Gov. Pete Wilson, who was in office during peak drought years in the early 1990s, highlighted Stapleton’s leadership during that time to create a safe, stable and reliable water supply for the region.

“The history of San Diego has always been about the struggle to create an adequate and reliable water supply,” Wilson said. “But today, that story has a new chapter, written by Maureen and her team at the Water Authority. Their success in building a highly reliable water supply that fuels San Diego’s robust economy and supports a quality of life envied the world over has been nothing short of remarkable and historic. She refused to just suffer drought.”

See a video greeting to Stapleton from former California Gov. Pete Wilson.

San Diego Rep. Scott Peters honored Stapleton with a Congressional Proclamation on behalf of the U.S. House of Representatives and the constituents of the 52nd Congressional District “for her lifelong contributions, exemplary leadership, and service to the San Diego region.”

The proclamation said: “She led a successful, multi-decade strategy to diversify and improve the reliability of San Diego County’s water supply, which now supports at $220 billion economy and the qualify of life for 3.3 million people; she transformed the Water Authority into a pioneering, visionary, agile, and driven public agency; and she has been a pillar of San Diego civic life for decades through service on several boards and foundations.”

Click here to view the proclamation from Congressman Scott Peters.

Stapleton Leaves Lasting Legacy on San Diego’s Water Supplies

After 23 years at the helm of the San Diego region’s wholesale water agency, General Manager Maureen Stapleton is stepping down – and leaving an enormous legacy.

“The positive impact of Maureen’s leadership of the Water Authority and management of this region’s water supply cannot be overstated,” said Jim Madaffer, chair of the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “She has also been an important leader in our civic affairs for three decades and has dedicated countless hours to the betterment of our entire region. She will be greatly missed.

“Her name is synonymous with water in San Diego – for good reason,” Madaffer said. “Since 1996, Maureen has guided a dynamic agency that continues aggressively developing a comprehensive array of water supply and infrastructure projects designed to diversify the region’s water resources and improve the region’s water supply reliability.”

Stapleton announced her plans today to the Board of Directors and staff. Upon Stapleton’s departure, Deputy General Manager Sandy Kerl, who has more than 25 years of experience in public administration including a decade at the Water Authority, will be the acting general manager while a search for the Water Authority’s next general manager is under way.

“The success of the Water Authority over the past two decades is testament to the vision of the Board of Directors, the passionate commitment and dedication of the Water Authority’s staff and management team, the partnership we forged with our 24 member agencies, and the unwavering support of the San Diego region’s civic leaders,” Stapleton said. “I am immensely proud of our shared accomplishments, and I will greatly miss my Water Authority colleagues and esprit de corps we shared carrying out the Water Authority’s mission to provide our region with a safe and reliable water supply.”

‘Instrumental in the growth and development of our region’

Former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, now President and Chief Executive Officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, called Stapleton “instrumental in the growth and development of our region. Under Maureen’s leadership, the Water Authority has helped propel San Diego’s economy by ensuring our region has a diversified, highly reliable water supply – and the infrastructure system needed to produce and treat water, store it, and deliver it to millions of San Diegans.”

Stapleton’s career includes many milestones, including successfully negotiation the landmark 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement, the nation’s largest farm-to-urban water conservation-and-transfer agreement that remains a cornerstone of water management in the Southwest.

Under her guidance, the Water Authority implemented cutting-edge urban water conservation programs that have helped to reduce per capita water use in the San Diego region by more than 40 percent since 1990.

In 2013, the Water Authority won the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies’ Platinum Award for Utility Excellence, the organization’s highest honor for outstanding achievement in implementing nationally recognized best practices for effective utility management. Three years later, AMWA bestowed its Sustainable Water Utility Management Award on the Water Authority, saying the agency’s “sustainability mindset saves ratepayers money, reduces the environmental impacts of projects and operations, conserves energy and water, and helps the agency thrive in a changing climate.”

Agency mission and projects continue to move ahead

In 2017, the Association of California Water Agencies presented the Water Authority with the Clair A. Hill Water Agency Award for Excellence for innovation and excellence in water resources management with its addition of supplies from the Carlsbad Desalination Project – the largest seawater desalination plant in the Americas.

The same year, the Water Authority won the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award – the top international engineering award – for having the foresight and dedication to build the Emergency & Carryover Storage Project. That $1.5 billion system of dams, reservoirs, pump stations, pipelines and tunnels, to protect the region’s 3.3 million people and $220 billion economy from extended dry periods or emergencies that could disrupt imported water deliveries.

Said Madaffer: “While Maureen’s departure will leave a significant hole, I’m confident in the leadership team that we have assembled both on the Board of Directors at the senior staff level so that the important work of the Water Authority will continue with the same diligence as it has for decades.”